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National Security

The Post-American Presidency?

Elliot Abrams, with a sense of deja vu, reviews Carter era foreign policy as one of weakness and accommodation leading to disaster. He’s seeing some eerie similarities in the foreign policy the Obama administration seems to be fashioning.

One begins to wonder how far we will drift into a new period of generalized disaster. In Honduras, we back the Hugo Chávez acolyte and say we won’t respect November’s free elections. In Israel, we latch on to the bizarre theory that settlement growth is the key obstacle to Middle East peace and try to bludgeon a newly elected prime minister into a freeze that is politically impossible–and also useless in actually achieving a peace settlement. In Eastern Europe, we discard a missile defense agreement with Poland and the Czechs and leave them convinced we do not mean to fight off Russian hegemony in the former Soviet sphere.

Manouchehr Mottaki, foreign minister of Iran, visited Washington, as noted, after such visits had been forbidden for a decade. High-ranking American officials have made six visits to Syria, even while the government of Iraq and our commanding general there complain of Syrian support for murderous jihadists. The highest ranking U.S. official to visit Cuba in decades recently toured Castro’s tropical paradise. The president won’t see the Dalai Lama, however, for fear of offending the Chinese.

This, of course, isn’t a particular surprise to those who listened to what Barack Obama said during the campaign. You really can’t hold something against a person who does what he says he’s going to do. The question is why weren’t enough listening to decide the possibility of disaster in the foreign policy arena was real enough to disqualify him from holding the highest office in the land? A question for a different post, I suppose. However, the most interesting part of the Abrams piece (Abrams, btw, used to work for Democrat Henry “Scoop” Jackson – sort of the Joe Liberman of his era when it came to foreign policy) was his take on the Obama UN speech:

See a pattern here? The president’s U.N. General Assembly speech tied all this together, perhaps unintentionally: Talk of allies and enemies and national interests was absent. Getting something for concessions we make is contrary to the new spirit of engagement. The president, transcending all such anachronisms, poses as the representative of .  .  . the world. So why would his country treat friends better than foes, and why would we bargain for reciprocal concessions? So old fashioned, so Cold War.

Former UN Ambassador John Bolton called Barack Obama the “post-American” president. Abrams analysis seems to agree with that characterization. So the question, then, isn’t “why would his country treat friends better than foes”, but “why would he put American interests before those of the world at large as he hopes to shape it?” If Bolton and Abrams are correct, he wouldn’t.   And his speech confirms that:

Instead, he told us, “I am well aware of the expectations that accompany my presidency around the world. These expectations are not about me. Rather, they are rooted–I believe–in a discontent with a status quo that has allowed us to be increasingly defined by our differences.” (Did speechwriters substitute “discontent” for Carter’s famous “malaise”?) So we will turn away from such thinking: “It is my deeply held belief that in the year 2009–more than at any point in human history–the interests of nations and peoples are shared.” Acting in the narrow interests of the United States and its friends and allies is passé: “Because the time has come for the world to move in a new direction. We must embrace a new era of engagement based on mutual interests and mutual respect, and our work must begin now.” This must sound to Ahmadinejad–or Putin or Assad or Chávez or Castro–rather the way Carter’s call to end our “inordinate fear of communism” sounded to Brezhnev.

Of course the key to the Obama vision is much like the key to world-wide nuclear disarmament. Unless all the players agree with the vision, it’s so much hot air. And nothing that is happening in the world today gives any indication that the players named by Abrams have any inclination at all to play Obama’s game.

In fact when I think of how Chávez and the rest must be reacting to this privately, Flounder from “Animal House” comes to my mind unbidden yelling, “Oh boy, is this gonna be great”. Naivete and narcissism (Count the unprecedented number of times he refers to himself in the UN speech. He did it 23 times in 13 paragraphs in his Olympic speech) in one package and the predators licking their chops and circling the prey, each trying to decide what piece they can tear off and get away with.

Unfortunately my guess is if we pursue this post-American foreign policy, as it appears we will, we won’t have long to wait to see the disasters begin to pile up as the world’s despots exploit the situations with which they’re naively presented.

~McQ

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Headline of the Day

The headline in the Washington Times this morning: “Exclusive: Obama Agrees To Keep Israel’s Nuke Secret”:

President Obama has reaffirmed a 4-decade-old secret understanding that has allowed Israel to keep a nuclear arsenal without opening it to international inspections, three officials familiar with the understanding said.

The officials, who spoke on the condition that they not be named because they were discussing private conversations, said Mr. Obama pledged to maintain the agreement when he first hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House in May.

With that headline you have to ask “what secret?” Admittedly it is probably one of the world’s worst kept secrets. But it is interesting given our present stance on Iran that we’re exempting Israel from the same sort of international inspection regime – if, of course, the “secret” is true. And if true, and I’m sure Iran believes it is, why would Iran give up their pursuit of a nuclear weapon. They would most likely believe their acquisition of one would restore the regional balance. So why wouldn’t they agree to allow inspectors into a facility they had just voluntarily revealed to the IAEA. Why else reveal it? It certainly doesn’t mean there aren’t more hidden away in the mountains of Iran.

And why wouldn’t they agree to talks? It gives them the room, without sanctions, to continue what they’ve been doing for decades with no further penalty. String along the US and EU with “talks” while pursing the bomb.

I’d guess right now, Iran’s pretty happy with the way things are going.

~McQ

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Afghanistan – It Is Decision Time (update)

It is decision time for our involvement in that country – i.e. whether we continue or whether we pull the bulk of our troops out.

As I said in another post, fish or cut bait. Or, in Texas Hold ‘em parlance, go all in or fold.

Some look at those two very stark options and point out that there are many other options in between. True. But, given how this war has gone, I think those are the only two viable ones. What we’re doing now, which falls squarely between them, isn’t working. And variations on that aren’t going to work any better.

It seems to me we have to either make a concerted and focused effort to again nation build (and all that entails with time, blood and treasure), or we have to decide to leave that up to the Afghan people and concentrate on al Qaeda hunting on a much smaller scale. That, of course, would be the “fold” option.

President Obama is rethinking the Afghanistan strategy he announced a mere 6 months ago in the wake of the recent Afghan election. The allegations of reported fraud have made the administration much less inclined to support the current Afghan government without dramatic changes. I have no problem with that reassessment if it is done with an eye on settling, soon, on one of the two options above. If you read what the Taliban are saying, the Karzai government is one of their best recruiting assets. The corruption and cronyism have isolated that government from the people. Of course, in counter-insurgency doctrine (COIN), the link between the people and their government is critical to success, and that link is only viable if the people support said government. That is increasingly not the case in Afghanistan.

That presents the type of problem that does indeed require reassessment of strategy. We can flood Afghanistan with troops, have them at a one-to-one ratio with the population and provide the security COIN requires. But if that population has no confidence in the viability of its own government, doesn’t support it and doesn’t consider those trying to topple it “the enemy”, the entire effort is doomed.

So essentially the choice facing the administration now is to nation build or withdraw.  Withdrawal doesn’t necessarily mean we quit the fight against al Qaeda.  But for the most part, it would mean quitting the fight against the Taliban.  And I think we all know how that would end.

It is quite a moral dilemma and it is also not an easy decision.  While going “all in” would be the politically unpopular decision here, it would most likely spare the world the spectacle of a Taliban takeover and the resulting barbaric vengeance they would inflict on the population.  There is only one nation which will bear the blame in the eyes of the rest of the world even if most of the administration’s political base would support the decision.  The US would again be charged with not finishing something it started.  And that, as we’ve learned in the past, is something that other rogue leaders see as a weakness they can exploit.  As usual it will be seen not as a weakness of our military, but, if they wait long enough, the eventual weakening of our political will.

Whatever decision the administration makes, it must avoid the status quo.  That’s not working now and it won’t work in the future.  Just as Iraq required a dramatic change in strategy to succeed, so does Afghanistan.  If the decision is to continue with the current troop levels and a few cosmetic changes here and there, then the administration will be committing us to a strategy of failure. We owe it to our brave men and women there not to play political games with their lives.  Whatever decision is made it must be made very soon, within the next month or so, and must be devoid of politics.  Delays in making such a decision are not acceptable.

It is time for this administration to step up, make a decision and let the political chips fall where they may.  Don’t put it on the back burner.  The time is now to decide whether we’re going all in or we’re going to fold in Afghanistan.  At a minimum, we owe our military that.

UPDATE: Well this is encouraging.  The CINC hasn’t talked to his commander in Afghanistan in 70 days because, I guess, he’s been so busy. But, as it turns out, he has the time to fly off to Copenhagen and shill for the Chicago Olympics.  And they still wonder why Democrats have such a great reputation when it comes to matters of national security.

~McQ

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Iran Policy – What Is Going On?

National Review Online does a little review of the run up to the announcement by President Obama at the G20 summit concerning Iran and wonders what is going on. For instance, NRO points to Joe Biden 8 days ago. This was in answer to why the US was pulling its missile defense shield from Poland and the Czech Republic:

“[Biden said] Iran — a key concern for the United States — was not a threat.

“I think we are fully capable and secure dealing with any present or future potential Iranian threat,” he told CNN’s Chris Lawrence in Baghdad, where he is on a brief trip.

“The whole purpose of this exercise we are undertaking is to diminish the prospect of the Iranians destabilizing that region in the world. I am less concerned — much less concerned — about the Iranian potential. They have no potential at this moment, they have no capacity to launch a missile at the United States of America,” he said.

So 8 days ago, Iran was a diminished threat that was much less of a concern than previously.

Suddenly:

President Obama and the leaders of France and Britain blasted Iran’s construction of a previously unacknowledged uranium enrichment facility and demanded Friday that Tehran immediately fulfill its obligations under international law or risk the imposition of harsh new sanctions.

The new Iranian plant, the country’s second uranium enrichment facility, is believed by U.S. officials to be part of a broad effort by Iran’s leadership to pursue the ability to build nuclear weapons. Iran has repeatedly denied having any such goal, insisting that its nuclear program is aimed at generating electricity. U.S. officials said they believe the Qom plant is not yet operational but is intended to produce highly enriched uranium — suitable for nuclear weapons — and will be capable within months of producing enough material for at least one bomb per year.

Says NRO:

Boy, the Obama administration must have just been profoundly misguided and dangerously misinformed about Iran’s capabilities and intentions. Right?

Right – because, as pointed out 8 days ago, the reason the missile defense shield was pulled, per the VP of the US, was because the US considered Iran a much diminished threat. So obviously this is “new” information which has profoundly changed the game and required the US to completely rethink its policy since it has emerged.

Right?

@markknoller US officials say Obama first told of Iran secret nuclear plant during the transition — as President-elect. 9/25 10:28 A.M.

WTF? Mark Knoller of CBS says this was something the administration has known for almost a year? So what was all this nonsense about a diminished Iranian threat as a reason to pull the promised missile shield that the administration had promised the Poles and Czechs a mere 6 months before?

Asks NRO:

Astonishingly incompetent, perilously naive, or deliberately dishonest? Which is it?

I’d suggest all three. And I think that will become alarmingly apparent as this crisis continues to unfold.

I’ll also toss this out there as well – it was saved for a forum in which the President would have the attention of the world focus on him (a much tighter focus than the UN) and staged to maximize that. All politics all the time. He wanted the non-binding non-proliferation resolution from the security council before he took on Iran.  Meanwhile Joe Biden’s (and the DoD’s) credibility is left twisting in the wind.

So now the staging has been accomplished and the spotlight turned on the President. That’s the easy part. The usual talking the talk, something at which he’s quite good. Now comes the hard part – walking the walk – something he’s yet to demonstrate he’s capable of doing.

Oh – and where in the world is Hillary Clinton?

~McQ

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Calling Out Iran (update)

Appearing before microphones at the G-20 conference, the Presidents of the US and France along with the PM of the UK made an announcement concerning Iran:

President Obama and leaders of Britain and France accused Iran on Friday of building a secret underground plant to manufacture nuclear fuel, saying the country has hidden the covert operation from international weapons inspectors for years.

Appearing before reporters in Pittsburgh, Mr. Obama said that the Iranian nuclear program “represents a direct challenge to the basic foundation of the nonproliferation regime.” French President Nicholas Sarkozy, appearing beside Mr. Obama, said that Iran had deadline of two months to comply with international demands or face increased sanctions.

Essentially the argument is the facility is too big for the manufacture of nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes and can only exist to enable the pursuit of nuclear weapons.

American officials said that they had been tracking the covert project for years, but that Mr. Obama decided to make public the American findings after Iran discovered, in recent weeks, that Western intelligence agencies had breached the secrecy surrounding the project. On Monday, Iran wrote a brief, cryptic letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency, saying that it now had a “pilot plant” under construction, whose existence it had never before revealed.

So now Iran has been called out. That’s the easy part. Increased sanctions are promised. That’s the hard part. Russia may possibly come on board (we’ll see if the unilateral decision to remove the missile defense shield from eastern Europe), but China is an unknown (although the Chinese foreign ministry recently said it was not in favor of increased sanctions). That’s assuming the Obama administration plans on working all of this through the UN.

One of the sanctions that the US and others are considering is one which would restrict the importation of gasoline. While Iran sits on a sea of oil, it has very limited refining capacity. It must import most of what it uses. Cutting those imports would seriously effect the country. However Venezuelan strong man Hugo Chavez, during a recent visit with Iran, promised to provide the regime with gasoline. That could set up a confrontation between the US (and others) and Venezuela. Hugo Chavez might finally get the confrontation with the US he’s been claiming was coming very soon.

This is about to get complicated and nasty. December is the date in which France has demanded compliance with international demands. In the interim, both sides are going to be scrambling to line up their allies. And then there’s the wild card – Israel.

This will be an interesting couple of months. But one question I have – why wasn’t this presented to the UN before the president of Iran spoke?

UPDATE: Dale sends me a link to this article by Simon Tisdale at the Guardian in reference to this story:

…Now it seems the Iranian regime has been caught red-handed, and clean out of trumps, by the forced disclosure that it is building, if not already operating, a second, secret uranium processing plant.

The revelation will bring a triumphal roar of “told you so!” from Bush era neoconservatives in the US to hawkish rightwingers in Israel. The likes of former vice-president Dick Cheney and UN envoy John Bolton, and the current Israeli leader, Binyamin Netanyahu, have long insisted that Tehran’s word could not be trusted.

Yet the argument about who was right and who was wrong about Iran is hardly important at this juncture…

As Dale sarcastically notes:

Yes. Whatever we do, let’s not try and keep track of who was right and who was wrong about Iran. We certainly wouldn’t want to have a track record of foreign policy reliability we could consult in the future.

Because this is about, uh what was it again, oh, yeah, change!

~McQ

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Quote of the Day

Lech Wałęsa, former President of Poland had this to say about the Obama announcement that the US was pulling the anti-missile defense system from Poland:

“Americans have always cared only about their interests, and all other [countries] have been used for their purposes. This is another example,” Mr Walesa told TVN24. “[Poles] need to review our view of America, we must first of all take care of our business,” he added.

“I could tell from what I saw, what kind of policies President Obama cultivates,” the former president added. “I simply don’t like this policy, not because this shield was required [in Poland], but [because of] the way we were treated,” he concluded.

Another foreign policy coup. Treating our allies shabbily while sucking up to the Putins and Chavezs of the world.

~McQ

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Iran, Nukes and Anti-Missile Shields

The IAEA announced, almost simultaneously with the US unilateral withdrawal of its planned eastern European anti-missile shield, that Iran now has the capability and materials to build a nuclear weapon. Why did the IAEA come to that conclusion?

• The IAEA’s assessment that Iran worked on developing a chamber inside a ballistic missile capable of housing a warhead payload “that is quite likely to be nuclear.”

• That Iran engaged in “probable testing” of explosives commonly used to detonate a nuclear warhead — a method known as a “full-scale hemispherical explosively driven shock system.”

• An assessment that Iran worked on developing a system “for initiating a hemispherical high explosive charge” of the kind used to help spark a nuclear blast.

Additionally it noted, “The agency … assesses that Iran has sufficient information to be able to design and produce a workable implosion nuclear device (an atomic bomb) based on HEU (highly enriched uranium) as the fission fuel.”

And it has enriched enough uranium for fuel that it could be turned into enough weapons grade uranium for a single nuclear weapon.

So we have the capacity for a nuclear weapon and apparently proof, or at least some pretty heavy indications, that Iran has been working assiduously toward developing a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear payload as well as developing and testing an explosive trigger for such a device.

Obviously this didn’t come as a surprise to the US. Iran’s capability in both missiles and nuclear weapons technology continues to grow.

So excuse me if I don’t buy this “redefinition” of the threat the Obama administration is claiming is better addressed by its focus on short and medium range Iranian missiles. Any defense against missiles is a layered defense. That means you address all possible missile threats.

The fact remains that the only threat to Europe, for whom the Bush-era anti-missile shield was intended, is ballistic missiles. Iran (or Russia) must use them to reach that continent. Iranian short and medium range missiles are not a threat Europe.

The point, of course, is should Iran develop an ICBM, Europe would be defenseless because the systems which are designed for the short and medium range missiles aren’t designed to go after ICBMs.

Or said another way, the proper announcement would have been “the US is adding the missing two layers to the anti-missile defense system, thereby making the system complete.”

Instead we pulled the long-range system. Why?

Well that’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? Most feel it was a capitulation in answer to Russia’s fears of the system. Russia had claimed that the small and supposed defensive system could be turned into offensive system aimed at them. Of course that would require a completely different sort of missile than would have been deployed there, and, probably, a different sort of radar system as well.

Speaking of the radar system, Russia objected to the sophisticated X-band radar saying it would be able to look in 360 degrees and would be monitoring Russian missiles much too closely. Seems a bit absurd to make that claim when Russia knows we have satellites that can read the bumper numbers off their mobile missile launchers at will.

Then there was the claim that the US and Russia had an agreement that US troops and weapons wouldn’t be stationed or deployed in the former Warsaw Pact nations. The US doesn’t seem to remember that, but Russia claims its the case. That certainly can’t be the concern since Obama has said that in the future the new anti-missile systems might be deployed in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Obama says his decision was driven by the “unanimous advice” of the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Said the man who recommended the deployment of the missile shield to President Bush three years ago:

“Those who say we are scrapping missile defence in Europe are either misinformed or misrepresenting the reality of what we are doing in Europe,” said Robert Gates, US defence secretary.

In a word: nonsense!

Someone please explain the spurious claim that the best missile defense system for Europe – which can only be hit by an Iranian ICBM – is one which targets short and medium range Iranian missiles. It makes absolutely no sense.

It makes no sense until Russia is dragged into the equation. Then it starts to become somewhat clear. This is a risky bet meant to appease Russia while at the same time hoping Iran is unable to develop a long-range nuclear capable missile before its nuclear weapons program can be stopped. It is also clearly a bow to Russia and a part of the Obama administration’s unilateral attempt to “reset” relations with that country. And it is a display of weakness.

What about our allies? How do they feel about this? Well perhaps the best way to answer that is to understand why they were so interested in the anti-missile system promised by the Bush administration:

During negotiations with the Bush administration, Warsaw pushed hard for a missile defence agreement that would reward them with a Patriot short-range air defence unit supported by US troops. In the end, Poland agreed in principle to host the US base during last year’s war between Russia and Georgia, which sparked fears about Russian intentions towards central Europe.

Eastern Europe doesn’t trust Russia as far as they can throw them (a lesson we should have learned as well). The invasion and virtual annexation of two provinces of Georgia underscored Russia intent to dominate what it calls it’s “near abroad” (or Post-Soviet Space). Russia literally thumbed its nose at the US and the rest of the world with its military incursion there. Poland and other former Warsaw pact nations took the lesson for what it was – a declaration that Russia was back and intended to play hardball.

Max Boot reminds us of the last time this sort of thing happened:

That Obama has now bowed to Putin’s demands sends a dangerous signal of irresoluteness and weakness—similar to the signal another young president sent when he met with a Russian leader in Vienna in 1961. Nikita Khrushchev emerged from his summit with John F. Kennedy convinced that the president was “very inexperienced, even immature” and that he could be rolled. We all know the result: the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Except this time we’re playing in Russia’s backyard, not our own. Again, leadership is absent in a very critical area of national security.

~McQ

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Did Obama Trade Missile Defense For Iranian Sanctions?

Regardless of the reason, he’s left both Poland and the Czech Republic very unhappy with the announcement today that the US is “scrapping” the promised missile defense shield in Eastern Europe:

The former Czech prime minister, Mirek Topolanek, said: “This is not good news for the Czech state, for Czech freedom and independence. It puts us in a position wherein we are not firmly anchored in terms of partnership, security and alliance, and that’s a certain threat.”

The Polish deputy foreign minister, Andrzej Kremer, saidthat Warsaw had heard from different sources there were “serious chances” the anti-missile system would not be deployed.

Russia, of course, is sure to be quite happy with the plan, although it hasn’t yet reacted to the news.

Mr Obama, who is due to meet the Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev next week in New York, says he wants better ties with Russia so that the two former Cold War foes can co-operate on Afghanistan and reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation.

He may also have been reassured by Moscow’s growing willingness to discuss further sanctions against Iran.

Not exactly a sign that the US is a solid and dependable ally to the former eastern satellites of Russia. It has been interesting to watch the foreign policy of this administration develop. Thus far, it has certainly made all sorts of overtures to those we haven’t exactly had great relationships with – but for the most part, as in this case, those overtures have come at the expense of existing relationships with supposed “allies”.

For the 600th time – Russia is not our friend and never will be.   Cooperation in various areas is fine but it shouldn’t be bought at the expense of our allies’ security or pursued from a position of weakness. While the missile defense shield may have only been a token defense, to those it was promised, it meant a solid commitment from the US to their defense. Withdrawing it without notice makes the US much less of a reliable ally in their eyes and may see them trying to seek some sort of accommodation with Russia now. If the intent of US foreign policy to this point was to keep them out of Russia’s orbit, this sort of move is sure to force them more into it.

~McQ

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Uncle Osama Wants You!

Just when it seems we’re putting al Qaeda between a rock and a hard place, we’re seeing talk about leaving Afghanistan. While we may feel we’ve a way to go against the Taliban, we seem to be succeeding against our number one enemy – al Qaeda:

Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida is under heavy pressure in its strongholds in Pakistan’s remote tribal areas and is finding it difficult to attract recruits or carry out spectacular operations in western countries, according to government and independent experts monitoring the organisation.

Speaking to the Guardian in advance of tomorrow’s eighth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, western counter-terrorism officials and specialists in the Muslim world said the organisation faced a crisis that was severely affecting its ability to find, inspire and train willing fighters.

Its activity is increasingly dispersed to “affiliates” or “franchises” in Yemen and North Africa, but the links of local or regional jihadi groups to the centre are tenuous; they enjoy little popular support and successes have been limited.

It is getting harder and harder to recruit “martyrs”. And, apparently, the organization has been so brutal that it is welcome in few areas. Meanwhile drone attacks continue to decimate its leadership. And those they do recruit are all but driven off once they get to their training site:

Interrogation documents seen by the Guardian show that European Muslim volunteers faced a chaotic reception, a low level of training, poor conditions and eventual disillusionment after arriving in Waziristan last year.

In other words, they become disillusioned cannon fodder. And, of course, word gets back and the supply of more cannon fodder slows to a veritable trickle.

This is called having an opponent on the ropes. We now need to do what is necessary to knock them out for good.

~McQ

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Meanwhile On The Foreign Policy Front …

A lot is happening, not that you’d know it unless you’re paying attention.

The North Koreans are happily enriching uranium again, as are the Iranians. We’re in the middle of completely screwing over Honduras while ignoring what Venezuela is in the middle of doing.

And what is that you ask? Well the Washington Post fills us in:

But Mr. Chavez has clearly forged a bond with one leader who is as reckless and ambitious as he is: Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The growing fruits of this relationship, and its potential consequences for U.S. security, have not gotten as much attention as they deserve.

Mr. Chávez was in Tehran again this week and offered his full support for Mr. Ahmadinejad’s hard-line faction. As usual, the caudillo made clear that he shares Iran’s view of Israel, which he called “a genocidal state.” He endorsed Iran’s nuclear program and declared that Venezuela would seek Iran’s assistance to construct a nuclear complex of its own. He also announced that his government would begin supplying Iran with 20,000 barrels of gasoline a day — a deal that could directly undercut a possible U.S. effort to curtail Iran’s gasoline imports.

But remember, it is much more important that we punish Honduras for living by their Constitution. Meanwhile:

Such collaboration is far from new for Venezuela and Iran. In the past several years Iran has opened banks in Caracas and factories in the South American countryside. Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau, who has been investigating the arrangements, says he believes Iran is using the Venezuelan banking system to evade U.S. and U.N. sanctions. He also points out that Iranian factories have been located “in remote and undeveloped parts of Venezuela” that lack infrastructure but that could be “ideal . . . for the illicit production of weapons.”

“The opening of Venezuela’s banks to the Iranians guarantees the continued development of nuclear technology and long-range missiles,” Mr. Morgenthau said in a briefing this week in Washington at the Brookings Institution. “The mysterious manufacturing plants, controlled by Iran deep in the interior of Venezuela, give even greater concern.”

Big deal. I mean, look at what Honduras has done.

Mr. Morgenthau’s report was brushed off by the State Department, which is deeply invested in the Chávez-is-no-threat theory. State “will look into” Mr. Morgenthau’s allegations, spokesman Ian Kelly said Wednesday. Meanwhile, Mr. Chávez is off to Moscow, where, according to the Russian press, he plans to increase the $4 billion he has already spent on weapons by another $500 million or so. Mr. Chávez recently promised to buy “several battalions” of Russian tanks. Not a threat? Give him time.

And, of course, as a little jab at the US, Chavez recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia and buying tanks in Russia.

North Korea, as mentioned, is back to building nuclear bombs.  But don’t worry, all the signs are present that they’re willing, once again, to do a little bartering.  They’ve announced they’re open to two-party talks with the US.  That means, they’ll talk and the US will pay for them to quit making bombs.  And they’ll agree until the next time they need a little cash.

Afghanistan? Going swimmingly, haven’t you heard?

But don’t worry – Honduras is going to pay the price for their constitutional misbehavior.  And besides, our president gets to play “King of the World” in a couple of weeks might even have the chance to give Moammar Qaddafi a hug while he is at it.

Yup – it’s looking good out there.

~McQ