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Obama and Romney trade jabs over Chavez

Obama and Romney trade jabs over Chavez

After a few weeks of relative silence on Foreign Policy from the campaign trail, there was a brief and largely unexpected skirmish between the Obama and Romney camps today over just how dangerous Hugo Chavez is. The president started things with remarks to a Miami TV Station about ties between Venezuela and Iran:

“We’re always concerned about Iran engaging in destabilizing activity around the globe,” Obama told the station, WJAN America TeVe Miami. “But overall my sense is that what Mr. Chavez has done over the past several years has not had a serious national security impact on us.”

Romney immediately saw an opening:

“The idea that this nation, this president, doesn’t pose a national security threat is simply naive and an extraordinary admission on the part of this president to be completely out of touch with what is happening in Latin America,” Romney said of Chavez in an interview Wednesday with Fox News.

The Obama campaign then fired back with a press release: 

“Because of President Obama’s leadership, our position in the Americas is much stronger today than before he took office. At the same time, Hugo Chavez has become increasingly marginalized and his influence has waned. It’s baffling that Mitt Romney is so scared of a leader like Chavez whose power is fading, while Romney continues to remain silent about how to confront al-Qaeda or how to bring our troops home from Afghanistan. People like Hugo Chavez want attention – and that’s exactly what Mitt Romney and his supporters gave him today. Governor Romney is only playing into the hands of Chavez by acting like he’s ten feet tall. President Obama has refused to be distracted by the outdated rhetoric of people like Hugo Chavez and instead has focused on restoring our nation’s standing in Latin America, strengthening our partnerships in the region, and standing up for democratic values in Venezuela. It’s disturbing that Mitt Romney is trying to score cheap political points by blustering and misrepresenting the President’s record while failing to outline any coherent foreign policy strategy.”

The Associated Press suggests that this could be a major issue for Florida voters, but I have a feeling that most voters with strong feelings on Latin America policy have probably already made up their minds about who they’re voting for. 

It’s starting to seem like this dynamic is going to play out until November on national security questions. Obama will say something that sounds insufficiently hawkish, Romney will charge him with being weak and naive, the Obama campaign will counter by invoking its counterterrorism record. Insert Iran, Russia, China, North Korea, Cuba, Mexican cartels, or Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. 

This time, at least, we get the anticipation of Chavez’s own response. It will be interesting how the Yanqui hostility/indifference plays out in his own reelection effort. Nothing on Twitter yet.