When I saw the above photo, I laughed. I laughed because President Obama gave President Hugo Chavez the “You think we”re cool” handshake. Basically it disarms your opponent/adversary/enemy and makes him or her feel like everything’s fine and dandy (cool) when it’s really not. President Obama then made a point of saying that we (USA) “won’t be prisoners of past disagreements”. Of course there are folks here, here, and here that think photo and subsequent interactions is the worse thing since Joanie Loves Chachi. But I find President Obama’s diplomatic strategy the right way to go during these times.
See, you don’t have to be a hard arse to get things done all the time. President Bush had a “you’re either for us or against us” policy. I understood that policy in some situations and with some dictators. But I thought it was short-sighted to do that towards everyone. President Obama’s way is to be cool with you, say we’re going to work it out, with the goal of disarming said dictator and/or questionable leader. And when someone’s disarmed, your at a distinct advantage. When people are disarmed, they frequently are a lot more loose with the words and actions. Look at the picture again. President Chavez said all kinds of kooky nonsense about the USA in the past (recently as well). And what does President Obama do? Give him the “it’s cool brother” vibe and Chavez is just all smiling and blubbering. Embarrassing is Chavez’s reaction after talking so much “crap”. He just got charmed! That’s a win-win for America. And the hullabaloo about Chavez’s anti-America gift (book) to Obama is just downright silly. All because someone gives you a gift doesn’t mean your going to make it a part of your worldview/lifestyle/leadership. You take the gift and smile it off. Simple and plain.
Look my wonderful patriots. I know this type of diplomacy and interactions rankles you. You like the hard arsed approach. Cut ‘em off. Ignore ‘em. Give ‘em the hand. But in today’s world, charming a questionable leader to the point that they say “I want to be your friend” and smiling like a big ol’ kid can give you leverage that can be exploited for your benefit. Not theirs. “Kill ‘em with kindness” does work a sizable amount of times.
On a related note, don’t underestimate the power of President Obama’s color on the world stage. The United States Of America has never been represented at it’s highest office by a “brown” person. When dealing with other “brown” or “black” heads of state, President Obama’s “brown-ness” can be a powerful tool in diplomacy. I emphasize tool because Obama’s skin color is only that, a tool. Easy pickings are not assured. So kill any “Messiah” or “Obamessiah” jokes/memes at the front door.
On a second related note, I am well-aware of the failings of many Latin American countries. But Latin America, in my opinion, has many more paths to success diplomatically than Afghanistan and Pakistan (not saying we should abandon those two places). Yes, we have a “drug war” and illegal immigration but we don’t have a huge religious barrier that seriously hinders negotiations at the quick with Islamic/Muslim nations. Central and South America should be high priority in securing allies. A aligned Americas would be terrific force to be reckoned with.
UPDATE: Al Giordano at The Field makes a great point about how the previous headline from the Trinidad and Tobago’s Daily Guardian was “Chávez vs. Obama.” Now it’s “Let’s Be Friends” (said by President Chavez). Ol’ Hugo caved in pretty fast off the rhetoric, eh?? If you think that this is a sign of weakness from President Obama, “leader of the free world”, then I call bollocks!