This is part of an ongoing series preparing for the AEI/CNN/Heritage National Security & Foreign Policy GOP presidential debate on November 22.
Iran is using Venezuela as a platform to project its asymmetrical warfare into the Western Hemisphere and to sustain its illicit nuclear program. According to documents of the regime of anti-American radical Hugo Chávez, Iran has laundered about $30 billion through the Venezuelan economy to evade international sanctions.
Moreover, Iran is seeking to exploit uranium in Venezuela, Ecuador, and elsewhere in the region, with Chávez’s facilitation. It also is working through its terror proxy Hezbollah to cultivate a network of radicalized operatives in a dozen countries in the region, centered in Venezuela but making significant progress in Brazil and Colombia, among others. The recent plot fostered by Iran’s Qods Force to commit a terrorist bombing in the heart of Washington, D.C., is undeniable evidence of Tehran’s determination to strike against U.S. targets in the event of preemptive military action against its illegal nuclear program.
"Unfortunately, the White House has failed to learn the lesson that Chávez has continued on his dangerous path aided by our silence."
In addition to Iran, other U.S. enemies or rivals have constructed mutually beneficial alliances with the Chávez regime and are co-conspirators with his anti-U.S. project. China is moving quickly to displace Western oil companies from Venezuela’s oil industry. Russia has sold $9 billion in arms (including weapons that have been transshipped to terrorist groups) and is planning to build Chávez a nuclear power plant “for peaceful purposes,” as it did for Iran. Cuba has dispatched 30,000 personnel to Venezuela, with many embedded in Chávez’s internal security apparatus. Narcotraffickers operate with the full complicity of the Chávez regime, converting Venezuela into a hub for smuggling cocaine to North America and Europe and wreaking havoc in Colombia, Central America, and Mexico.
The United States is pursuing a passive policy toward Chávez, choosing not to engage these security challenges for fear of generating a bilateral confrontation with his regime. Unfortunately, the White House has failed to learn the lesson that Chávez has continued on his dangerous path aided by our silence. Our enemies read U.S. indifference as a green light to join Chávez’s conspiracy, and our friends believe that we do not know or do not care what is happening in Latin America.
The next U.S. president will have to deal with the “toxic waste” left behind by the cancer-ridden Chávez, whom doctors expect to succumb prior to the Venezuelan election or early in his next term. Democratic opposition candidates each would represent a more constructive relationship with Venezuela’s traditional U.S. partner, but Chávez’s inner circle is plotting to hold on to power at all costs.
Will the United States continue to sit on the sidelines or, worse yet, signal to Chavistas that we will tolerate unconstitutional maneuvering by their collapsing regime? Will U.S. agencies be prepared to help democratic partners neutralize the Iranian and Hezbollah threat? The next president may have time to use effective diplomacy, effective sanctions, law enforcement, and other means to ensure that Chávez’s anti-Americanism axis does not continue to pose a grave and growing threat to U.S. interests and values.
Roger Noriega is a visiting fellow at AEI