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Sanity on Obama/Chavez

Over at Slate, Fred Kaplan makes an excellent case that conservative ire over Barack Obama's visit with Hugo Chavez is misplaced.  Here's the core of Kaplan's argument:

The shockwaves over the handshake might best be explained as a hangover from the long years of George W. Bush's presidency, when dealings with those who disliked us were expressly forbidden, out of a vague fear that such contact might debilitate us or legitimize them. This fear is what was "not helpful." It tended to elevate the standing of a pipsqueak like Chávez; it made him seem more ominous than he was, and it made America seem like a he-man who's frightened by a mouse....

[A]n unthreatening picture of America at the very least takes the wind out of Chávez, who has built power, at home and in some quarters abroad, by waving his fist at America and likening George Bush to "el diablo." And, who knows, it might maneuver Chávez more into our lane, too....

Obama's talk of building alliances and listening to others is not a celebration of multilateralism for its own sake. It's a hard-headed formula for advancing U.S. interests in a world where we have less leverage than we did during Cold War times to impose our will on a whim. 

I'd add just one more thing. Dick Cheney frets that Obama's handshake with Chavez might make our enemies "think they're dealing with a weak president." But compared to the infamous Bush/Putin confab of  the Obama/Chavez exchange seems pretty risk-free in terms of broadcasting weakness or naivete. And a strong case can be made that Putin's Russia was/is far more threatening than Chavez's Venezuela ever could be.

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