In a very matter-of-fact television interview earlier this month, President Obama said Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez’s authoritarian machinations have “not had a serious national security impact on us.” Hard-pressed to find points of divergence between his own national security policies and Obama’s, Mitt Romney — focused on Chávez’s “military ties with Iran” — blasted the president as “simply naïve,” and called his comment “disturbing.”
One wonders if Romney feels the same way about Air Force General Douglas Fraser, who, as the head of Southern Command, has responsibility for U.S. military operations in Latin America. Asked by the Associated Press if Venezuelan arms purchases and weapons development posed a threat to the U.S., Fraser said:
From my standpoint, no, I don’t see it that way. I don’t see them as a national security threat.
…As I look at Iran and their connection with Venezuela, I see that still primarily as a diplomatic and economic relationship.
The experts side with Obama and Fraser on this question. Riordan Roett, who directs Johns Hopkins’ Latin American Studies Program, said Chávez “poses no security threat to the United States or anyone else.” Roett dismissed Romney’s outrage as “just pure electoral politics.” Another expert said in 2009, “They just don’t have the stuff that could pose a serious threat to the United States.”
On Afghanistan, Romney was for listening to the generals before he was against it. Maybe he should lend them his ear, at least for a while, on Latin America, too.