David Rothkopf

How far is too far?

How far is too far?

In today’s installment of the annals of going too far, we find the following stories:

  • Hugo Chavez to Replace Bill Murray in Remake of Caddyshack

Hugo Chavez may have finally crossed the line. Gutting Venezuela’s constitution was not enough. Fostering leftist uprisings across the Americas was not enough. Getting into bed with anyone who hated America was not enough. Arms deals and military exercises with the Russians were not enough.  Providing arms to the FARC, a revolutionary group dedicated to the overthrow of a neighboring government was not enough.  But yesterday’s report that Chavez is now taking on golf may ultimately do him in.

Reportedly, Chavez sees golf as the leisure pursuit of the elite and is therefore taking steps to shut down two of Venezuela’s top golf clubs, one in Maracay and one in Caraballeda. Previously he took off after the sport in one of his televised rants. As reported in the New York Times:

Let’s leave this clear,” Mr. Chavez said during a live broadcast of his Sunday television program. “Golf is a bourgeois sport,” he said, repeating the word “bourgeois” as if he were swallowing castor oil. Then he went on mocking the use of golf carts as a practice illustrating the sport’s laziness.

Doesn’t he realize that he has finally stirred up a bees nest of trouble he may not be able to control. Golf is not bourgeois sport. (Actually, it started as a pastime of humble shepherds in Scotland.) It is a religion of the rich and powerful. Why just yesterday one of Washington’s most notable journalists was commenting to me about the avidity with which President Obama made his way to the links by Andrews Air Force Base, going whenever he could find weekend time. In fact, this reporter wondered aloud how the President found time to be with his family given all his weekend golf. But Obama has the bug. It’s not curable. It has historically infected presidents and others who might finally start giving Chavez a hard time now that he has decided to go after them where they live. (My pal New York Times columnist Tom Friedman even writes a golf column, he is so devoted to the game. Personally I am a tennis guy … because tennis is actually a sport … I agree with Chavez that nothing involving riding around in a little electric cart can actually be called a sport … but I bear no malice to golfers. I don’t dare.)

Eviscerate democracy in your own country and all you do is anger millions of Venezuelans and right minded people everywhere. That’s survivable. But does anyone really want to go head to head with Tiger Woods?

  • Give Hillary a Break, Please

This week the media went too far (for a change) in its attacks on Hillary Clinton when she took umbrage at a question about what her husband thought about a particular issue. While the question was misquoted, she had every right to push back on the idea that somehow her views were secondary to his. The attacks on her, focusing on her pique, her mood, her level of exhaustion, the challenges of being married to a powerful man, were almost uniformly sexist. She was delivering through her honesty an important message on a continent where the message needs to be heard. (On a planet where the message needs to be heard.) She is Secretary of State. She is one of the most important political leaders in the United States. She is vastly more relevant to contemporary American politics and policies than is her husband.

That said, I wonder if she then went too far in her response to a question about political corruption when she answered that we had our own problems with our “evolving” democracy in the United States and then offered as an example the implication that the 2000 election was compromised by the fact that Republican candidate for president’s brother was governor of the state whose contested election decided the race. Personally, I think the 2000 election is a stain on America’s political history, that almost certainly the results in Florida were not fairly reflected in the result and that the intervention of the Supreme Court along party lines was particularly ugly. But the implication that Jeb Bush rigged the results without proof was probably a step too far especially overseas. That said, I am not of the opinion that speaking of our warts overseas is such a bad thing. Honesty is the only path we’ve got to restoring credibility. It also looked to me like she was a.) joking and b.) exhausted (which is understandable toward the end of an historic 11 day trip across Africa).

  • You say Myanmar, I say Burma…Let’s call the whole trip off? 

Finally, I find myself wondering if Senator Jim Webb’s upcoming trip to Myanmar is a trip too far. He will be engaging the leaders of that country’s regime concurrently to their latest outrage against the rights of Aung San Suu Kyi — an 18 month extension on her house arrest which was handed down this week. Further, I highly doubt that anyone sees Webb’s trip as that of an independent official.  He is not only a prominent Democratic Senator, he is also known to be close to many at senior levels in the Obama administration and almost certainly would not have undertaken this trip without their okay.

The trip tests the core idea of engagement. There are few more odious regimes on the planet and this one is being interacted with precisely at one of the moments when that odiousness is most clearly on display. If Webb’s message is tough or produces some relief for Suu Kyi (or at least makes a legitimate attempt to do so), then the risks such a visit will be spun by some to the advantage of the Burmese regime are worth taking. But it’s a delicate business and engagement will almost certainly produce instances in which we are played.

All that said, if Webb’s trip involves the kind of direct talk of which he is especially capable and is a real effort to advance U.S. interests there (which begin with fairer treatment of Suu Kyi and movement toward restoration of basic rights within Burmese society) then it is not only not going too far … it will remind the world of how far Burma’s neighbors in Asia really ought to be going (and have not gone) to address this blight in their back yard.

UPDATE: After posting I received a note containing an open letter to Webb from three major dissident groups in Burma: the All Burma Monks’ Alliance, the 88 Generation Students, and the All Burma Federation of Student Unions. “We are concerned that the military regime will manipulate and exploit your visit and propagandize that you endorse their treatment on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and over 2,100 political prisoners, their human rights abuses on the people of Burma, and their systematic, widespread and ongoing attack against the ethnic minorities,” it reads.

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images,STR/AFP/Getty Images,ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images,THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images