Shadow Government

Libya's relationship folly with Latin America

The Qaddafi regime's use of deadly force against protesting Libyan citizens has been properly met by condemnations from responsible governments around the globe. And then you have the outliers.

It may surprise some that this includes several governments in the Western Hemisphere, led by Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, the one-time petty dictator who posed as a born-again democrat to capture his country's presidency in 2006 (only to revert to his autocratic ways).

To great fanfare, Ortega pronounced, "I have been speaking with Qaddafi on the telephone ... he is again fighting a great battle, how many battles has Qaddafi had to fight. In these circumstances they are looking for a way to have a dialogue, but defend the unity of the nation, so the country does not disintegrate, so there will not be anarchy in the country."

It bears noting that the last time Daniel Ortega was heard from on a global scale was in 2008. Nicaragua was the only country to recognize the independence of the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions of Georgia following the brutal Russian invasion.

Also displaying solidarity with the murderous Qaddafi regime is Ortega's guiding light, Fidel Castro, who gamely tried to change the subject by telling the world that, "The government of the United States is not concerned at all about peace in Libya and it will not hesitate to give NATO the order to invade that rich country, perhaps in a question of hours or very short days."

The support for Qaddafi, as detestable as it is, is not hard to understand. After all, both Ortega and Castro, along with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Bolivia's Evo Morales, are all past recipients of the Muammar Qaddafi International Human Rights Prize, bestowed by the Libyan dictator himself.

For his part, the loquacious Chavez has been unusually silent on the Libyan situation. That is quite different from September 2009, when Chavez hosted Qaddafi in Caracas, exclaiming, "What Simon Bolivar is to the Venezuelan people, Qaddafi is to the Libyan people." He also awarded him Venezuela's highest civilian decoration, saying, "We share the same destiny, the same battle in the same trench against a common enemy, and we will conquer."

Chavez critics are currently giving him his comeuppance, "Our garrulous president is keeping a thunderous silence," wrote Teodoro Petkoff in the newspaper Tal Cual. "Now that the democratic rebellion has reached Libya, Chavez is looking the other way and even abandoning his disgraced ‘brother.'"

Compare all this with the reactions of serious governments in the region, such as Peru, Colombia, and Chile, who have all forcefully condemned the attacks of protesters, with Peru breaking relations with Libya all together.

All this crystallizes the situation for the United States in Latin America today: between serious governments with whom we can do business and the irresponsible outliers with whom we share hardly any common interests. It is a distinction the Obama administration doesn't always seem to appreciate. At a House Western Hemisphere subcommittee hearing last week, Rep. David Rivera (R-FL) chided Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela on this score, saying that our hemispheric policy seems to be all about trying to make up with our enemies and ignoring our friends. Let's hope the disparate reactions to the carnage in Libya will serve as a wake-up call to realign our priorities in the Western Hemisphere.

JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images

Shadow Government

Perhaps it is time to judge Obama's response to Libya

Up until now, I have been inclined to give the White House the benefit of the doubt for the Middle East message difficulties that they have been having. But they are stretching that doubt almost to the breaking point. Today's press briefing by White House Spokesman Jay Carney was excruciating. He clearly had nothing to say about Libya and was determined not to say it.

I am not expecting the White House spokesman to make policy from the podium, but I did expect the White House to be further ahead of the curve today than they were yesterday or the day before, thus giving Carney more material to work with. I can think of only two plausible explanations for the weak White House response thus far:

  • Perhaps the Gaddafi regime is blocking the evacuation of U.S. citizens so as to intimidate the White House into making only muted statements -- and this intimidation is working (note to President Obama, this is closer to what real hostage-taking feels like).
  • Or perhaps the administration is paralyzed with indecision because of debates between internal factions, some wanting a stronger Bush-like response and others wanting to stick with the Obama 2009 approach that guided the weak response to the Iranian post-election protests in June 2009.

Either explanation is plausible or perhaps both are in play. If the first explanation is the correct one, I think the White House's stance is understandable but exceedingly risky. Making concessions to virtual hostage-takers only makes sense as a temporary tactic in a larger strategy that quickly turns to a more forceful intervention. (By the way, if the hostage scenario is correct, the issue of U.N. authorization before military force is moot. It still may not make sense to escalate immediately to military action, but President Obama would have a substantially freer hand in terms of what options would be legitimate). If the second explanation is correct, this is an important test of the president's mettle. He needs to decide the matter and establish a clear policy ... and soon.

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images