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Do Chavez First, Iran Second

By Scott Sullivan

16.01.06 | Iran and Venezuella now pose a signficant threat to regional stability and to US security.  These two states --  supported by Fidel Castro and Evo Morales -- now constitute a "Gang of Four" who are out to impose a new fascist international order.  Using left wing slogans, this Tehran-Caracas axis is no different from the Rome-Berlin Axis of the pre-WWII era, as shown by its attacks on the "Anglo-Saxon Oligarchs" and the Jews.

The US must use finesse, not force, to overcome the Tehran-Caracas Axis.  Such an approach would focus on breaking up the Tehran-Caracas Axis and on co-opting Iran, if possible, while isolating and defeating Hugo Chavez.  In other words, the US should place first priority on addressing the Chavez threat, while awaiting a more favorable moment to address the problem of Iran.  In this approach, the road to Tehran runs first through Caracas.

Constraints on Acting Against Iran

First.  Iran has Iraq-related leverage over the US.  Without Iran's support in Iraq, the political transition will not go smoothly and the US cannot be assured of a 2006 timetable for withdrawing its troops.  Iran's cooperation is also needed for the Middle East Peace Process.

Second, as the second largest oil producer in OPEC, Iran has considerable energy-related leverage over the European countries and China, whose support is essential for a more confontational US approach against Iran.

Third, Iran may be amenable to cooperation with the West in a way that is inconceivable for Chavez, especially once Iran loses its only ally Venezuela.  For example, Iran is already cooperating with the US in Iraq, where both support the Kurdish-Shia constitution.

Advantages of Acting First Against Chavez

First, Chavez, unlike Iran, cannot retaliate against the US or the West.  He cannot cut off oil deliveries without sinking his own economy.

Second, domestic opposition to Chavez is on the rise, as reflected in recent comments by religious leaders in Venezula.

Third, regional opposition to Chavez is growing on the part of Brazil, Mexico, and Peru.  In this regard, Chavez's supportf or Evo Morales -- who will likely fail in Bollvia -- is a big mistake.

Fourth, Chavez, unlike Iran, is far less able to count on support from China, which has major equities in Latin America and has zero interest in Chavez's "Bolivarian Revolution" and support for the FARC.

How to Proceed Against Chavez

    --  Impose Arms Embargo.  The US, at long last, has inflicted a real blow on Chavez by blocking the sale of weapons systems from Spain containing US technology.  The next step is to close off alternative suppliers for the US technology in the UK, France and Italy.  Furthermore, the US should initiate consultations with Brazil, China and Russia to join the arms embargo.  Finally, the US should suspend delivery of spare parts for Vernezuela's F-16s. Until this is done, US appeals for an arms embargo against Chavez will seem ludricous.  DoD has to be convinced to give way on this issue.

    --  Support Venezuela's Opposition.  The US should suspend deliveries of arms and equipment (like lie detector kits) to Venezula's police and paramilitary groups.   Encourage Colombia to do more in support of Venezuela's opposition.

    --  Expose Iranian presence.  Press Chavez for full transparency on the Iranian presence in Venezuela, especially in the area of nuclear/WMD cooperation.  Monitor the extent to which Iran is using Venezuela as a jumping off point for operations in the Caribbean and the US.

    --  Liberate Bolivia.  Chavez has a major vulnerability in his support for Evo Morales.  Chavez is backing a probable loser in Morales.  Moreover, he is making an enemy in Brazil and several other Latin American leaders who are horrified by Morales.  The US should play hardball with Morales, especially given the contempt he is showing President Bush and the US Ambassador in La Paz. Consider boycotting the Morales inauguration on 22 January.  Open a dialogue with Bolivia's newly-elected governors and convince them to reject the presence of Cuban and Venezuelan advisors on their territory and offer addiional aid if they do so.  Warn Morales against purging the Bolivian military of pro-US officers. Encourage a resumption of a GOB investigation into coup-plottting by Morales prior to the recent elections.

    --  Defend Peru and Ecuador.  The US erred in Bolivia via power sharing with Chavez and Morales beginning in 2003.  As a result, the US is now being ejected from Bolivia.  The US should avoid making the same mistake in Peru and Ecuador, where Chavez is making major inroads.

    --  Warn Argentina.  Chavez is gaining increasing support from Argentina, as exemplified by the signing of agreements for a 3,000 km. natural gas pipeline from Caracas to Buenos Aires aimed at increasing Chavez's leverage over Brazil.  Warn President Kirchner that if he continues to be a strategic partner with Chavez, the US will no longer refer to Argentina as a "Major non-NATO ally" and withdraw the assocated benefits.

    --  Coordinate with Mexico, Brazil and Chile. Chavez can be defeated once this coalition is established.  The US no longer has excuses for not assigning this a top priority.

    --  Co-opt Raul Castro.  Fidel Castro and Chavez are very close.  Chavez would like to take over from Fidel as Cuba's new ruler.  Raul Castro, however, may want this job.  The US should offfer to relax the Cuba embargo if Raul keeps his advisors out of Bolivia.

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