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Post-911 Foreign Policy Tested: Venezulan Coup
Cold War Values Clash with New Security Needs

May 1, 2002


The brief overthrow of Venezuela President Hugo Chavez caused a clash between two basic U.S. foreign policy priorities: One from last century's war on communism, and the other from our current war against terrorism. The ouster and return to power of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela also tested the clarity of America's post-911 foreign policy. But conflict among American foreign policy principles is to be expected at this time -- since our foreign policy priorities have been transformed as a result of the war on terrorism.

The highest foreign and military policy priority is now to protect the country against terrorists and to oppose countries that support terrorists. Problematically, several countries that lend support to terrorist organizations are vital American oil suppliers. The second foreign policy priority is a remnant of our war against communism: to contain any further authoritarian socialism in the Western Hemisphere and support the integrity of democratic institutions and the popular will.

Several American newspapers have criticized the administration for weak condemnation of the brief coup. "The administration's role in condoning the overthrow is nothing less than shameful", said the San Francisco Chronicle. These criticisms will continue. As we move farther in time from the 911 attack on America, the clash may grow for a time between the primary principles of U.S. foreign policy - national self defense and supporting democratically elected governments.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez embodies the contradictions of a contemporary leader of an oil-rich nation. Chavez embraces communist Cuba's Castro, he praises despots like Saddam Hussein, and he condemned America's counterattack on Taliban Afghanistan. At the same time, Venezuela, a member of the OPEC, is the world's fourth-largest oil exporter and the second largest source of oil to the United States.

The coup was a clear assault on democracy. Chavez won 80% of the popular vote, though his popularity had dwindled at the time of the coup. Chavez pushed through dozens of controversial laws ranging from finance and central government administration to fishing and land reform. His reforms were clearly socialistic.

But with the collapse of the global Soviet-led communist network, the dangers of socialist states in the Western Hemisphere have lessened. Cuba is a political annoyance, but not a military threat. Terrorism is the obvious threat. So the U.S. was not pleased when President Chavez flirted with Iraq. But, for the time being, the Chavez move was not a threat to this country's security.

On the other hand, Venezuela's oil is a vital source for the U.S. Within America's more stark security interests, the vital need for that country's oil would take precedent over our distaste for state control of its production.

Our foreign policy goals can be reconciled. Our foreign policy will become clearer and self-apparent as the U.S. moves from last century's foreign policy goals to our contemporary objectives. It was popular support that put Chavez into office. It was popular uprisings that led to the brief coup and to Chavez's return to power. In the long run, the U.S. can continue to rely on the will of the people, however objectionable at the time. We can trust the will of the people to remove potential despots like Chavez, so long as the democratic institutions remain intact.

The war against communism possessed clarity. That clarity led to victory. Persistence and dedication to purpose won that war. Military strength and confrontation were matched with support for the principles of democracy. That mix will also characterize our victory against terrorists and terrorist states. In time, our current foreign policy objectives will be consistent those of the last century. Our responses to various world conflicts will become more reflexive and transparent; exactly what would be expected from the world's superpower.


Award-winning TV producer, talk show host, and Republican leader Arthur Bruzzone has written over 150 political articles for national and regional media, and has commented on political issues for American and European television and radio networks.  His articles and columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, Campaign & Elections Magazine, among other publications.

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