09 March 2013

Independence: Yours If You Want It

Brendan O'Neill has an article at Spiked where he comments on the legacy of the late president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez. O'Neill argues the key to understanding how Chavez had been able to defy, irritate and mock the United States without apparent consequences for himself, is to understand just how much the power of the United States has declined, particularly in the moral sense. He argues ideological notions which once spurred imperial America into decisive action against its chosen opponents seem to have lost their persuasiveness and now fail to do so.
"The decisive factor in the Chavez story was not his own political vision, but the creeping incapacitation of American power and influence in global affairs, including in Latin America. Chavez and his influential cheerleaders were energised by, indeed were parasitical upon, the glaring inability of Washington to pursue or even outline its interests on the twenty-first-century world stage."
It is an assessment that is impossible to disagree with. Rather than someone who could keep Washington at bay due to his own strength and the potency of his ideas, Chavez was first and foremost a figure who merely moved to enjoy the space he had been offered by the decay of American power. It is what O'Neill styles being "parasitical" upon American impotence.

I would point out, however, the importance of understanding that Chavez nonetheless was a cut above most other state leaders. If it is the case it was the decline of American power, which had opened up room for Chavez to act in the independent manner he did, it is also the case this space had been opened up for everyone else as well. Yet very few chose to take advantage of it. This is more an indictment of Chavez's peers in charge of other states, than it is praise of the president of Venezuela, but it still leaves Chavez looking as one of the better leaders in a very sorry-looking bunch.

A pertinent comparison would be with one Milorad Dodik, the popular political leader of the Bosnian Serbs. As a politician who used to be a part of the American, and the general Western, agenda for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dodik will not be mistaken for a man with an excessive strength of convictions or for an avid believer in an energizing ideology. He is simply a US man who had observed the moral weakness of his sponsors up close and realized he could go off the reservation without consequences.