President Obama And The “You Think We’re Cool” Handshake

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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!

UPDATE #2: The Wall Street Journal has more about Chavez now restoring his Ambassador to the United States.

Author: T-STEEL, Site Administrator

I'm not complex. Don't have time for all that. And all that complex stuff bad for the stomach. Just color me simple and plain with a twist.

34 Comments

  1. Ol' Hugo certainly did cave pretty quickly.

  2. You lefties will fall all over yourself for the prsident for life amemdment coming soon from Obama. At least we can get the annoying campaign ads off tv without our the pesky elections.

  3. I think it's appropriate that you stress the idea of different paths with different dictators. I agree with that, and I think there has to be some logic in the decisions of which path to pursue.

    So while I sort of agree that Latin American generally provides more options, I think one part of the calculus that seems missing when you do the 'you think we're cool' approach with any particular person is the propensity for that person to use propaganda against us. Chavez has a pretty big megaphone among certain anti-Americans around the globe, so I think this approach should be taken with extreme caution.

  4. Thanks dynaman50 for adding absolutely nothing to the conversation. President for life? What conspiracy theory screed has that come from.

    CStanley, I agree with the extreme caution approach in diplomacy in general. About the big megaphone that Chavez has, I'm not that sold that it is THAT big. Chavez is more blowhard than anything. I think this exchange with President Obama makes him look even sillier and weaker in terms of his anti-American stance. He wants to be “friends”. I say make him feel good and then make him prove it (using his “let's be friends” against him).

    So I'm not overly concerned with his propaganda. But your cautious point is valid nevertheless.

  5. I think this exchange with President Obama makes him look even sillier and weaker in terms of his anti-American stance.

    I think that could prove true but it probably depends on what happens next, so I'll reserve judgment.

    But I think you're assessment of his popularity and influence is too glib. Sure, to our ears he's a blowhard- but so is every other dictator. Doesn't mean they don't have their own fan club.

  6. I look at it this way, *everyone* is leaping at the opportunity to bask in the Obama glow, and given Chavez's growing unpopularity in Venezuela, Obama has maximum leverage from the get go and can though intelligent diplomacy practically clean the slate and establish new policies in one meeting.

  7. Sure, to our ears he's a blowhard- but so is every other dictator.

    Not to put to fine a point on it, but Chavez is the democratically elected president of Venezuela, and from what all the international observers have said, he won fair and square(His anti-Americanism might have a little something to do with the US backed coup against him in 2002). You will also notice that despite the fact that the media is often controlled by the right-wing pro-American Oligarchs, the left has been winning elections through out Latin-America for the last 10 years which might have a little something to do with the disaster that the Washington Consensus has been for Latin-America.

  8. But I think you're assessment of his popularity and influence is too glib. Sure, to our ears he's a blowhard- but so is every other dictator. Doesn't mean they don't have their own fan club.

    I don't think every other dictator is a blowhard. Robert Mugabe, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Kim Jong-il are much more than blowhards and have demonstrated their explicit nastiness in terrible actions. Hugo Chavez, from an American relations point of view, doesn't have that level of nastiness as the aforementioned dictators/leaders. As coxsackie pointed out, Chavez want to bask in Obama's “glow”. Then let him bask but make him feel the heat.

  9. T: I meant blowhard in the sense that Obama referred to Iran as a tiny nation. They've engaged in varying degrees of nasty stuff but individually (without their ability to influence other players on the world stage) what power do they really have against US? Their propaganda power is their greatest tool.

  10. I got a quick glimpse of “the handshakeke” and was a little upset that Pres. Obama was so eager to shake the hand of this trash. Of course it goes with the job. Presidents have shook the hannds of Stalin and countless other thugs. I guess the long campaign trail prepares them. The “you think we're cool handshake” was a nice touch–a nuance other president's haven't had. Let's hope South America gets it.

  11. AustinRoth,

    Yes, Ortega's rant showed there is a long way to go with other Latin American countries (and what a tired, stale rant it was). For the record, I'm not swooning over Chavez (although I do know some “lefties” that do). There is just more traction in dealing with Chavez which is why I made my post (I kept it on Chavez).

    CStanley,

    I get your point. I would add that you take the trail with the most traction. Hurdles in a better Chavez relationship are lower than say Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Kim Jong-il. Venezuela is a overwhelmingly Christain (Catholic) nation which eliminates a huge culture barrier. Can't stress that enough. And I'm not a religious guy!

  12. The problem with commonality though, T-Steel, is that the degree of anti-Americanism there may be just as high as it is in Iran. Some people like to point out that Iran's culture and history should be more aligned with Westerners than with the Arabic cultures, and that there lies an opportunity for us. But years and years of this propaganda (not completely without merit, mind you- I certainly understand the legitimate complaints that the Iranians and the people of Central/South America have with us) but that propaganda has been such a steady drumbeat that I don't think the people in either case have much interest in focusing on their common interests with us, nor will they really begin to trust us simply because Obama puts a new face on things.

    And that's the danger of his tack that I'm pointing out- will it blow up on him the moment he starts pushing for a concession from any one of them? He could actually become even more hated than previous leaders if he's seen as someone who did a bait and switch.

  13. Yes, Ortega's rant showed there is a long way to go with other Latin American countries (and what a tired, stale rant it was).

    Schools of the Americas

    Until January this year, Whisc was called the “School of the Americas”, or
    SOA. Since 1946, SOA has trained more than 60,000 Latin American soldiers
    and policemen. Among its graduates are many of the continent's most
    notorious torturers, mass murderers, dictators and state terrorists. As
    hundreds of pages of documentation compiled by the pressure group SOA Watch
    show, Latin America has been ripped apart by its alumni.

    In June this year, Colonel Byron Lima Estrada, once a student at the
    school, was convicted in Guatemala City of murdering Bishop Juan Gerardi in
    1998. Gerardi was killed because he had helped to write a report on the
    atrocities committed by Guatemala's D-2, the military intelligence agency
    run by Lima Estrada with the help of two other SOA graduates. D-2
    coordinated the “anti-insurgency” campaign which obliterated 448 Mayan
    Indian villages, and murdered tens of thousands of their people. Forty per
    cent of the cabinet ministers who served the genocidal regimes of Lucas
    Garcia, Rios Montt and Mejia Victores studied at the School of the Americas.

    In 1993, the United Nations truth commission on El Salvador named the army
    officers who had committed the worst atrocities of the civil war. Two-thirds
    of them had been trained at the School of the Americas. Among them were
    Roberto D'Aubuisson, the leader of El Salvador's death squads; the men who
    killed Archbishop Oscar Romero; and 19 of the 26 soldiers who murdered the
    Jesuit priests in 1989.
    In Chile, the school's graduates ran both Augusto
    Pinochet's secret police and his three principal concentration camps. One of
    them helped to murder Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffit in Washington DC in
    1976.

    Amazon – The School of the Americas: Military Training and Political Violence in the Americas

    “New name, same shame,” retorts SOA Watch, the organization founded by Catholic priest Roy Bourgois that has led a campaign to permanently shutter the facility. As Gill relates the genesis of this unique activist movement, in November 1990 Bourgois and two colleagues commemorated the first anniversary of the infamous assassination of six Jesuit priests and their two housekeepers by SOA-trained Salvadoran soldiers by pouring blood and planting a cross on the school's grounds. They were arrested and sentenced to several months in prison. Since then, in an annual act of civil disobedience, every November thousands of demonstrators descend on Fort Benning, Ga., where 20 years ago the school was relocated from the Canal Zone.

    One of SOA Watch's singular achievements was to obtain through the Freedom of Information Act a comprehensive list of the school's 60,000 graduates. The roster of alumni is a Who's Who of the most infamous dictators, death-squad directors and mass murderers in the Western Hemisphere — if not the world. Panama's Gen. Manuel Noriega, who now resides in a Florida prison for international narcotics trafficking, is an SOA alum. So was the godfather of the Salvadoran death squads, Roberto D'Aubuisson, who masterminded the 1980 murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero and hundreds of other killings. So was the violent former dictator of Bolivia Gen. Hugo Banzer. The list goes on and on.

    It may be that Ortega has seen the more of results of the US methods of spreading Democracy than you have…

  14. Don Quijote,

    Respectfully, my answer is: AND? What does Ortega want the USA to do then? See you can rant, rave, loudly discuss many issues of the past. But what is the endgame? To continue to rant, rave, loudly discuss? I was a card carrying member of a particular black nationalist group. I blamed EVERYTHING on “whitey”. I mean EVERYTHING. I grew up in Black Panther lore. Now everything that was being said to me wasn't all bombastic speech. The were elements of truth involved. BUT I changed my viewpoint because my “whitey” didn't mess with today's “white people”. I grew. I evolved. And am the better for it. Now that is a personal experience which doesn't mesh well with a nation's experience. But the point is there. Is Ortega going to blame the Obama Adminstration for all real or perceived transgressions against them? And if so, where do you things to go? See, just ranting about the past without a clear path for the future is pointless. Unless you only point is the “rouse the rabble” and in that case, another person can step in and do that job as well or better.

    CStanley,

    And that's the danger of his tack that I'm pointing out- will it blow up on him the moment he starts pushing for a concession from any one of them? He could actually become even more hated than previous leaders if he's seen as someone who did a bait and switch.

    That would depend on the concession. I guess I should ask this: what do we as the USA want out of Chavez and other Latin American leaders we may gain traction with? Help with the war on terror? Improved trade? See this is my issue: we can deal with China and basically have them make damn near everything we use and wear. And the have a regime that is communist: bane of the free world and free market. Yet leaders more closer to home like Hugo Chavez need to handled more harshly. It is a double standard. China has a terrible human rights record but is a true player on the world stage. So we have “love” for them? C'mon. There is some benefits with working hard to have a general Americas agreement on issues. I think it is high time to start. So I don't take your reservations (as well as others) lightly CStanley. But we put so much time and effort in the Middle East (justifiably so most of the time) yet we neglect those closest to us (Cuba, Venezuela, etc)? I think it's time for a Western Hemisphere initiative that focuses on working through our differences and finding SOME common ground.

  15. I agree completely on the double standard with regard to China, and on the need to figure out a new approach to Latin America, T- and again, I hope that Obama's on the right track. I'm not condemning him (though it's predictable that others are, and to some degree I see where they're coming from but just really disagree with them.) I'm only expressing what I see as the risk here.

  16. “… we can deal with China and basically have them make damn near everything we use and wear. And they have a regime that is communist: bane of the free world and free market. Yet leaders more closer to home like Hugo Chavez need to handled more harshly.”

    Well, China DOES have an awesome military complete with nukes.

    So part of treating countries harshly has to do with military power. It's easier to bully a country like Venezuela than a nuclear armed country. Iran did offer us help in the fight in the war on terror back in 2002 or 2003, but Bush turned around and labeled them as part of the axis of evil. I bet if they had nukes at the time Bush would not have been so rash. At any rate the US is the world's sole superpower so I don't understand why we need to “bully” or treat “harshly” other planets unless, as Bush did, it is an attempt to score political points in the US or as a prelude to more aggressive action against that country…. such as an invasion. Neither of which we, the US, should be doing. Of course if a country IS a threat to the US then we need to take the appropriate action.

    Sorry, I just felt the need to throw in the military aspect. If Latin American leaders can stir up their people by painting the US as aggressive militarily (and it's easy to do, given our history in the region) then they will. It's less hard to do that when someone like Obama is the US President and he is about negotiation and inclusion, rather than the “us v. them” mentality that was in the WH the last eight years.

  17. T-Steele, this is a bit off topic, but I am continually impressed with the way you take part in the discussion of your posts. It really makes it a dialog with the TMV community. Thank you.

  18. Just to add something (I hope) to the CStanley/T_Steel conversation….

    Obama IS popular in Latin America. Some politicians even changed their name to Barack Obama:

    http://www.tressugar.com/2031381

    (Though none won.)

    So I think it's important to take the popularity of Obama in Latin American into account when discussing Chavez (or other leaders in the region) using his bully pulpit. If his people like Obama then he has to be more careful with his anti-US rhetoric (or drop it altogether). Or else those people may start to wonder why their leader is so against Obama, who is a symbol to them. After all there is a huge black population in some of those countries (and many of them face racism and are disenfranchised) and for an African-American to be elected the president of the most powerful country in the world is huge psychologically for them. As to the ethnic make-up of other countries…. the whole region really is a melting pot and very ethnically diverse. Just as Obama is part white and part black.

    Some of the leaders in Latin America have to tread lightly until Obama establishes more of an identity and history with these people. For instance if Obama were to take Bush's attitude of “us v. them” then people would soon see Obama as just another US imperialist. But if Obama appears friendly, engaging, reasonable and open to true negotiation, then his power will grow in Latin America. I think Cuba is the biggest opportunity here. After decades of being ostracized by the imperialistic “white” power to the north, if Obama does open up normalized relations with Cuba that will go a LOOOOOOOONG way in legitimizing his character as someone willing to negotiate. It's hard for someone like Chavez to paint Obama as the demon if the Cuban situation improves.

    So the democratically leaders in Latin America have to be very careful in dealing with Obama because many of their own constituents like him. At the moment. But that can change if Obama is not very careful.

    I get the sense that these leaders are still at that “Let's wait and see what happens with Obama” stage…. And they're smart not to rile up anti-American sentiment at the moment.

    IMO Obama does have a lot more power in Latin America than Bush ever had.

    These countries may have their political leaders, but to them Obama is a symbol (of hope in this case) which is more powerful than an elected leader. I think the Latin American leaders see this, but it's something most in the US are not attuned to in Latin America.

  19. A decent point, Stockboy. I'd say that there's a current of politics of personal adulation in general in Latin American politics, and if Obama can leverage that to his advantage then I will not object to it.

    Cautious optimism is the description of my current mood on it.

  20. The spat between Venezuela and the US always seemed silly to me. Sure, Venezuela had a reason to be pissed off (we tried to depose Chavez), but why exactly were we so intent on demonizing them?

  21. CStanley, “Cautious optimism is the description of my current mood on it.”

    Yes, that's what I think and a very good way to sum it up.

    What's interesting is that people either tend to see the glass as half full or as half empty when it comes to Obama.

    For instance you said “cautious optimism” or seeing the glass as half full.

    But then there are those anti-Obama people who perpetually see the glass as half empty. For instance dynaman50 seems convinced somehow that Obama will amend the constitution so the presidency can be a lifetime job. And others on the right say that Obama “will take away our guns” or that Obama “will” do this or “will” do that…. They tell the rest of American to “Just wait and see.”

    During the campaign Obama said he would cut taxes and the right said that it was just campaign speech, that Obama would actually raise taxes. And when Obama won, the right continued to say the same thing, “Just wait and see, Obama will raise our taxes”. Now that Obama has actually reduced taxes the right can't even acknowledge it.

    So I think “cautious optimism” is probably the best approach…. In the tax cut case above, I can understand why people might brush off Obama's promise as campaign rhetoric, but when he was elected I think people should have started to be “cautiously optimistic” that Obama would actually reduce taxes. Give him a chance to live up to his word. Which he did.

    Obviously if one is against tax cuts (or some other issue that Obama is for) then one can't be cautiously optimistic. :)

  22. but why exactly were we so intent on demonizing them?

    Because Chavez had the balls to stand up to the US. Period. We don't take it very well when our client states tell us to get lost.

  23. Respectfully, my answer is: AND? What does Ortega want the USA to do then? See you can rant, rave, loudly discuss many issues of the past. But what is the endgame? To continue to rant, rave, loudly discuss?

    I would assume that Ortega

    A) wants us to acknowledge our leadership and participation in the various bloodbath's that occurred during the eighties in Central America.

    B) wants us to butt out of the internal affairs of his country and that of their neighbors.

    C) and expects neither to happen.

    Keeping in mind that Assume make an ass out of u and me.

  24. SB, you had me until the tax cut part, because Obama's tax cuts are disingenuous so many of us oppose his tax policy on that basis. There's no way to pay for the current spending levels without either increasing the amount of hidden tax (cap and trade, and sin taxes like cigarettes) and/or having tax rate hikes on increasingly lower income folks later on. The projections for growth in the economy which underlie the Obama administration's claim to reduce the deficit without such tax hikes is bogus because the projections are unrealistic.

    Now that's nothing new- probably every administration uses rosy projections when it suits them. But it is why it's silly to act as though no one should oppose his economic policies on that basis.

    And then there's also the phoniness of calling a tax cut what is actually a tax credit to those who don't pay any federal income tax at all. He's shifting us much closer to the point at which half of all voters won't be paying any federal income tax, and a sizable number of them actually get paid by the government. Not a healthy sign for a democracy.

    So, I hope you can acknowledge that I'm giving Obama credit exactly where I think it's due, and having a glass half full outlook where I think that's appropriate. But my glass isn't koolaid- so I'll also speak frankly when I think that a glass is half empty. It's unfair to pretend that since SOME people are partisan hacks in their criticism of Obama, that no one who is skeptical of him on certain issues could possibly have a point.

  25. I guess I'm with CStanley's “cautious optimism” in the sense that I don't see this handshake as yet much of anything. Obama's obviously going to try the carrot approach for a while. It's a legitimate course of action which works sometimes (only sometimes) and is worth a try since the stick approach was not working in Venezuela.

    Stockboy hit this already in a different way, but Obama's interaction with Chavez are as much about the region than about U.S./Venezuela relations specifically. It seems very likely that at some point sooner or later that Chavez will reject such overtures. So be it. But this can be a success if it's clear to everyone that Chavez is rejecting friendship and not the U.S. doing so. The main problem right now is not that Venezuela has anti-American sentiments, but that it's spreading to other nations with leftist governments such as Bolivia and Ecuador. Perhaps a carrot approach to diplomacy can help bring those such govts back to being more friendly to the U.S. and leave Chavez on his own.

    Of course, Venezuela is more important to the national interest than Bolivia, because of it's oil. And so perfect success would be perfect relations with all.

  26. It's unfair to pretend that since SOME people are partisan hacks in their criticism of Obama, that no one who is skeptical of him on certain issues could possibly have a point.

    But it is more than a little interesting that the same people who claim to have qualms about Obama's fiscal policies had no such objections to Bush's. If you recall, Bush also cut taxes and dramatically increased government spending. What us skeptics were told then was that tax cuts will pay for themselves because of increased economic activity and revenue. Apparently that theory only applies when a Republican is in office.

  27. well, the demonizing of Venezuela has always been so disingenuous. By nationalizing the oil companies, Chavez hurt oil companies plans for Venezuela's oil. But at the same time, we want their oil, leading to the laughable situation in which we buy oil through the Dutch Caribbean island of Bonaire, 40 miles off the Venezuelan coast. What a knee slapper. Pay another middleman in order to pretend we're punishing Chavez.

  28. CStanley, from what I understand Obama will let the Bush tax cuts on those earning over $250k to expire next year. But I agree with you about Obama's projection for growth in the economy…. I don't think those figures are going to be achieved.

    And as far as the glass half full / glass half empty… I agree with you and mentioned that if one is against an Obama policy then one wouldn't be cautiously optimistic (or see the glass as half full).

    I distrust those who always see the glass as half full as much as I distrust those who always see the glass as half empty when it comes to any politician. So I do fully appreciate that you give Obama credit where due and you speak up where you disagree. That's my point exactly…. It's what more people should do: both Obama supporters (who tend to be too lenient) and his detractors who generally are 100% against anything Obama does, even if it's a policy they supported under Bush.

    And this is exactly why I think the Republican elected officials are failing us. Instead of offering reasonable arguments or proposals to address concerns you (or I) may have about something all the GOP leadership can do is blast Obama for his handling of the pirate situation (which we “won” anyway) or how Obama greeted some King or Queen. Or some such silly nonsense.

    That's why I like your term, “cautious optimism” because it doesn't blindly buy into the idea that Obama will do whatever the issue at hand is, but neither does it say, “Obama will never do that.” If one agrees with Obama on an issue than I think it's fair to have cautious optimism because there's no guarantee it will be resolved how we want it to be resolved.

  29. I just want to be clear that I'm not predicting success for Obama in Latin America or failure. I think Obama is off to a good start and the leaders of those countries have to be especially careful in dealing with Obama.

    But one misstep by Obama could destroy the whole process.

  30. I want to see Obama French-kiss Ahmadinejad next.

    In the name of World peace, of course.

  31. Thanks GreenDreams for the compliment. I don't like posting something and then just “leaving”. Makes me feel like I'm being rude. LOL!

    “Cautious optimism” is fine with me as well. I do have to dial myself down some since I see so much more potential in Latin American allies. And it doesn't help that one of my best friends is from Brasil.

  32. As to the criticism Obama is receiving on meeting with Chavez…. I just wanted to point out that the majority of people in this country were tired of Bush's blowhard, “us v. them” mentality in dealing with enemies. Obama on the campaign trail did say he was willing to meet with Chavez and while some people in the US may not like it (and would never like anything Obama does anyway) I think far more people do like Obama's more reasonable approach.

    Elections have consequences and Obama won.

  33. AR, Obama and Ahmadinejhad kissing…. now that would be a sight, though probably one I can do without. I suppose the right would say it's proof that the poofs are taking over the world. :)

    Thanks!

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