Chávez called him the devil, a killer, a terrorist, a dictator, a racist, a donkey, a drunkard, an idiot and an asshole, but George W. Bush never blinked.
Fearing that Chávez would cut off Venezuela’s oil, which is about 5% of what America consumes daily, Bush decided to suffer whatever humiliations Chávez would hurl at him. Subsequently, Chávez bushwhacked Bush in ways never before tolerated by an American president. No matter what Chávez did, Bush backed down.
Charged with planning Chávez’s assassination and regime change in 2002 when in fact it was Venezuela’s military that removed Chávez, Bush did nothing to defend himself.
When Chávez claimed falsely that Bush planned to rig the 2004 recall referendum vote so Chávez was defeated, Bush did nothing when Chávez did rig the vote to claim a victory.
When Chávez produced the worst human rights record in the hemisphere second only to Cuba, Bush sat back and accepted it with regret.
When Chávez used his oil dollars to turn most in the hemisphere against America, Bush did nothing to counter him. In a 2006 trip to six Latin American nations, Chávez stalked Bush every step of the way, chasing Bush from the region with his tail between his legs.
When Chávez teamed up with Iran’s Ahmadinejad, Syria’s Assad and Lebanon’s Hezbollah to engage not so secretly in the transfer of weapons, computers, money and materials useful in the development of nuclear bombs for the Middle East and Latin America, Bush looked the other way.
When Chávez was proven to be supporting the narco-terrorists in Colombia known as the FARC, with money, weapons, oil and cocaine sales, Bush did nothing about it.
When Chávez became the key figure in the oil cartel OPEC to spike the price of an oil barrel from $10 in 1999 to $147 by July, 2008, Bush stood by powerlessly.
And when Bush was urged by Members of Congress to declare Chávez a sponsor of terror and replace his oil with oil from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve, Bush balked.
Even when Chávez expropriated billions of dollars of property in Venezuela belonging to his Texas pals from big oil, Bush had nothing to say.
And in 2008 when Russia reintroduced submarines, a naval carrier fleet, and bombers carrying nuclear weapons to the Caribbean, invited there by Chávez, Bush just laughed it off.
For eight years now, Chávez has accumulated power, weapons and money with the stated intention of destroying America, which he calls the “evil empire.” But each time Chávez took a firm step in that direction, Bush ignored him.
While Bush was spending $1 trillion and sacrificing the lives of four thousand American soldiers in Iraq, based upon faulty evidence about weapons of mass destruction and a connection to Al Qaeda there, Bush ignored a huge threat documented by tons of good intelligence that was fomenting on America’s doorstep.
If Bush had paid any attention whatsoever to the intelligence on Chávez, he could be rid of him now without having spent one dollar or risked the life of one U.S. soldier. All Bush had to do was stop buying oil from Chávez.
All of Chávez’s oil profits come from U.S. sales — $40 billion a year. The rest of his oil he virtually gives away to political patrons or to Venezuelans (at 12 cents a gallon) to prop up his regime at election time.
Without the U.S. revenue, which supports over half the payroll of the entire country, Venezuela would collapse in a matter of days or weeks. Chávez, a coward who surrendered twice already to Venezuela’s military, once in 1992 upon his failed coup attempt and once in 2002 when his own military refused to fire on civilians and arrested Chávez instead, would predictably do so again.
Whoever replaces Chávez, from inside or outside his government, is bound to be less antagonistic to the U.S. Actually, the Pew surveys document that Venezuela is the most pro-American country in Latin America but it is led by the most virulent anti-American leader in the region. Under Chávez, Venezuela has not had a transparent election since 2002 and pro-American opinion there has been suppressed.
If Bush had acted in 2006, when oil was at $60; or in 2007, when oil was at $90; or in 2008, when oil was spiking at $147 and then tumbling below $40; he would have gotten the same result: the Venezuelan democracy would have re-emerged to produce a sane president and Bush would be refilling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in Louisiana with $34 a barrel oil.
But that’s not the way it was or is. Because Bush backed down every time he should have stood up, the threat from Chávez is wilder and crazier than ever today. On his watch, Bush was AWOL.
©2008 Michael Rowan
Michael Rowan, a political consultant and writer, lived in Caracas from 1993 to 2006. He was the strategist for Governor Manuel Rosales in the 2006 presidential race and is the co- author with Douglas Schoen of The Threat Closer to Home: Hugo Chávez and the War Against America (Free Press, January 6, 2009 publication; 978-1-4165-9477-2).