Cheat-Seeking Missles

Friday, May 20, 2005

A Hemispheric Puzzle

Quiz: Who called the U.S. government "a mafia of assassins," President Bush a "jerk," and Condoleezza Rice "illiterate?"
A. Howard Dean
B. Howard Stern
C. Hugo Chavez
D. Yugo the Car
Clue 1: He is the elected leader of one of our primary oil suppliers.
Clue 2: He probably sees himself as the next Fidel Castro.

The answer, of course, is Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela. A story in the Christian Science Monitor runs down our Chavez worry beads:
  • He keeps Castro afloat with oil, and by purchasing Cuban goods
  • He's allowed nearly 30,000 Cuban "health care workers and coaches" into his country and is using them to build his popularity in poor neighborhoods
  • He supports, and is admired by, Marxist revolutionary movements throughout South America.
  • Perhaps because he's shut down the free press and imprisoned critics, perhaps because the poor appreciate the attention they're getting, his approval ratings are in the 60% range.
What is Bush, and the Bush Doctrine, to do with a powerful Castro ally who has his hand on our oil spiggot? It's the same question that needs to be asked of Saudi Arabia and Al Qaeda, but more intense because it's in our backyard.

As I mull it over, two primary thoughts come to mind, two pretty normal for me and one that is quite foreign.

First normal: Keep your eye on the ball, but don't focus on it. Our focus needs to be on Cuba and the countries Chavez is trying to influence, like Bolivia and Columbia. Castro will not live forever, and we should be working very, very hard to encourage a democratic revolution in Cuba on his death, while being a soft-handed good guy in the other countries.

Second normal: Undercut him internally. Take everything we've learned from CIA actions in Central and South America, and apply the best of them patiently and carefully.

And here's the strange one. Make SUVs a part of the CAFE fuel efficiency requirements for car makers. By classifying SUVs as trucks, the government has allowed car manufacturers to show increasing effeciency for the car fleet covered by the CAFE even while overall fleet efficiency is declining. That is self correcting as SUV sales tumble in the face of high gas prices, but putting them into the CAFE formula would push car makers to develop a more fuel efficient product line even more quickly. That, along with more aggressive exploitation of US reserves, could give us some wiggle room in dealing with Chavez.

Ugh. That was hard to write. But Chavez is hard to stomach.