Friday, March 04, 2011

The Enemy of My Enemy is no Bolivar

The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

That statement is a fallacy.

The events in Libya are heartbreaking and ought to be a sobering reminder to policy-makers throughout the world of the awful human cost of supporting "stable partners" who are violent dictators.

As Ghaddafi has ordered his military to fire upon civilians demonstrating against his rule, there have been a range of reactions from the U.S. and other world powers, including some loose talk by American and British lawmakers about establishing a "no fly" zone in Libya (which necessitates military action in Libya to take out her assets).

And in the midst of this, we see a strange gamble by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Chavez has floated the possibility of brokering negotiations of some kind between Ghaddafi and the people -- presumably, the living ones, not the ones massacred under Ghaddafi's orders. Dead people are famously reticent.

It is neither surprising nor sinister to see Venezuela attempt to involve itself in an intervention that circumvents the United States. Venezuela has been working very hard to establish alternative avenues for international relations, regional development, and even a regional currency, that are independent of U.S.-dominated neoliberal capitalism. There is something of a tradition in Latin America of multi-state conflict resolution, and if Chavez can make an opportunity to raise Venezuela's profile -- his own, in fact -- as a peacemaker by exporting such diplomacy, it's no surprise he would give it a shot. And no one else has proposed putting the civil war on pause and negotiating some sort of exit for Colonel Ghaddafi.

It's a strange sideshow -- at least, I suspect it is just a sideshow -- because if there is one thing Hugo Chavez has in common with the United States ruling class, it is an affection for authoritarian regimes. Chavez has eagerly sought diplomatic ties with states like Libya, Iran, Belarus, and the Russian Federation. This has something to do with opposing U.S. dominance, but for what alternative? What do these characters have to offer to the goals of Chavez's "21st century socialism" or his project for a people's political economy?

In particular, Hugo Chavez has this curious friendship with Ghaddafi. I'm not sure what specific strategic benefits exist between them, though they are both oil nations. Ghaddafi has claimed to be an Islamic socialist of some sort, who defined his nation as a "government by the masses." At any rate, the two men are close enough that there were rumors Ghaddafi had fled to Caracas, which Ghaddafi debunked in an eccentric 40-second television broadcast.

How does someone like Chavez, a strong critic of authoritarian communism and other distortions of socialism, get fooled by a Ghaddafi? Such was Chavez's admiration for this guy that in 2009 he publicly said: "What Simon Bolivar is to the Venezuelan people, Gaddafi is to the Libyan people."

Simon Bolivar does not strike me as a person who would order an Air Force to open fire on his own people in order to preserve his own power. And one has to question the idea that Ghaddafi liberated his people after seizing power -- from one kind of king to another. A strange liberator it is who declares, as Ghaddafi did in 1973, that the nation he seized in a military coup would be subject to the law of a monotheistic religion; who claims to rule a jamahiriya, a government by the masses, yet assassinates critics and executes dissidents. There are reports this month that soldiers who refused to open fire on their civilian countrymen were executed as well.

The enemy of our enemy is not necessarily a friend -- and it definitely does not make him another Simon Bolivar.

Knowing this, how would the Libyan opposition trust Hugo Chavez -- who received a human rights award from Ghaddafi -- as a neutral party?

If Chavez was risking his credibility as a true "leftist" with his cultivation of Russia and Iran, getting into bed with Ghaddafi ups the stakes considerably.

Domestically, Venezuela has undertaken some interesting transformative changes that are worth considering, if only U.S. media would cover it. Venezuela has also scored some impressive achievements in foreign policy. On the other hand, Chavez has a dictator problem -- whereas the U.S. has cultivated dictators who will facilitate U.S. business interests, Chavez seems to be cultivating dictators who will block U.S. dominance.

Cui bono? Who benefits from these shenanigans? Dictators. Guys who kill their critics and withhold resources from their people.

Embedded below is the Venezuelan response to Libya's expulsion from the Human Rights Council. I give some credit to the concerns it raises about western military intervention in Libya, and what the true aims might be. On the other hand, if anyone can halt the bloodshed and broker a transition of power, I don't see Venezuela playing that role.

Venezuela on Libya

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