Americans are suffering a new psychological disorder: news-induced political numbness. It's not the return of Jimmy Carter's "malaise." Despite the steady stream of Congressional absurdities and conservatives' growing impatience with the president, we're doing pretty well for a nation at war. But the incessant 24/7 television-newspaper-Internet barrage has caused people to tune the world out instead of reserving energy to think about the events that must be the focus of our attention. All of us, especially the White House, desperately want a break to rest and recuperate. But that's not an option. Times are tough, and we just have to keep going.
Our economy is booming, but each of us -- and every business -- is suffering from the high cost of gasoline. We're suffering the results the enviro-whackos have imposed, without a new oil refinery or nuclear power plant in decades, without offshore drilling, and without opening the Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve to oil exploration. But offshore drilling there will be, because Cuba has agreed to Chinese oil and gas drilling in the Florida Strait. Just about fifty miles off Key West, China will be doing what American companies can't. It's all part of a larger plan by the self-styled Simon Bolivar of the 21st century, Hugo Chavez. If we don't start interfering with Hugo Chavez's plans, we might as well sell our cars and buy bicycles.
None of the worst in the Western Hemisphere -- from Vicente Fox to Nicaragua's Danny Ortega now starring in Nicaragua's Sandinista Revival -- seem bad enough to be worthy of a disparaging word or two from the White House. Chavez is emboldened by the lack of response. Chavez recently visited Iran to stand with the mullahs and warn that oil shipments -- we get about 18 percent of our oil from Venezuela -- would be interrupted if America hits the Iranian nuclear facilities. He's done everything he can think of to provoke us, from replacing the Soviet Union as Castro's bankroller to allying himself with China. He's working hard to create a "Bolivarian axis" of anti-American governments in Central and South America, and China is the immediate beneficiary.
A few weeks ago, Chavez met with his hero, Castro, and the newly elected Evo Morales of Bolivia to talk about how they can combine their influence to America's disadvantage. Chavez, for all his crude bluster, is neither ignorant nor lacking in savvy. He knows that China is the number two oil importer in the world, and that the Hu Jintao government is pressing every advantage it can find to tie up oil supplies around the world. And, he knows, China periodically tests American resolve. The last time China engaged in such a test, an American Navy EP-3 Orion was forced down on Hainan Island and the crew held hostage for a week to China's demand for an apology from President Bush. With Chavez's and Castro's help, China is testing Mr. Bush again.
Our offshore oil drilling is stuck somewhere in the late 1960s. Since then nary a new well has been drilled, and not a new refinery built. Under contract with Castro, the Chinese government will be drilling for oil and gas in the Florida Straits as well as northwest of Cuba in the Gulf of Mexico.
Cuba has the right to sell oil drilling rights in its waters and China has the right to buy them just as much as it has the right to agree with India on oil exploration and to build refineries in Indonesia or, for that matter, in Venezuela. But here we have to draw a line, and make clear to both China and Chavez that the line cannot be crossed.
The Saudis made oil a weapon in their 1973 oil embargo. Chavez is fond of threatening us with cutting off oil shipments suddenly. To do so now would do what the Saudis tried to do: to so damage our economy that we would surrender our allies or our interests. China or Iran could easily tie a Venezuelan decision to ship the oil meant for America to China with military or terrorist action elsewhere. Chavez and his allies in Iran and China should be made to understand that if oil is used as a weapon, the response we make will be with every other weapon -- military or economic -- we choose in response to such an attack.
Chavez's aggressive anti-Americanism and growing military power is losing him many likely allies. Peru, Mexico and others in the area are very nervous about his ambitions, and that we can use to advantage. Central and South America aren't our protectorates, but we can -- and should -- increase our trade and military assistance to Venezuela's neighbors. Chavez should be told in plain terms that, after Castro, Cuba will be made free one way or the other and that any Venezuelan interference would be met with force.
The second answer to Chavez's ambitions has to be directed to his newfound allies in Iran and China. They must be made to understand that the Monroe Doctrine is still in effect, and we have a new derivation of the action it entitles us to. Call it the Commercial Corollary.
Those who engage in trade with Venezuela should be free to do so only as long as they limit their activities to commercial trade. Those who -- such as China -- often insert military personnel in commercial activities will not be permitted to do so in Venezuela or anywhere else in the hemisphere. We should be looking closely at China's operations in the Panama Canal Zone.
Castro has, for decades, welcomed terrorists of many stripes into Cuba. The Irish Republican Army, at the height of its terrorist activities, had a base in Havana that helped arm and train terrorists throughout the northern half of South America. Should terrorist bases arise in Venezuela, or if Iran or China choose to use it as a base of operations overtly or covertly, we will forcibly end their presence there.
Mr. Chavez should take less comfort from the oil weapon he believes protects him from American response. Should he choose suddenly to cut off the oil he supplies to us, our economy would suffer tremendous damage. His provocations of America have, so far, not been responded to in kind. That will not always be the case.
TAS contributing editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery, 2004) and, with Edward Timperlake, Showdown: Why China Wants War With the United States (Regnery, May 2006 -- click here to obtain a free chapter).
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