Will Obama cozy up to Chávez, Castro? Not likely Andres Oppenheimer

Por Venezuela Real - 6 de Noviembre, 2008, 17:25, Categoría: Política Internacional

Andres Oppenheimer
Miami Herald
06 de noviembre de 2008

One of the biggest questions about President-elect Barack Obama is whether -- unlike President Bush -- he will fulfill his campaign vow to meet without preconditions with anti-American strongm

I doubt it.

Judging from my own interviews with Obama and what I'm hearing from some of his advisors, there are three reasons why Obama is not likely to take chances with these and other U.S. adversaries.

First, Obama's campaign vow to meet with anti-American leaders was not the product of a carefully thought out foreign policy plan, but most probably a rookie misstatement in the heat of a Democratic Party primary debate.

It happened during the July 24, 2007, CNN-YouTube debate, when Obama was asked whether he would meet separately, without preconditions, with the leaders of Iran, Venezuela, Cuba and other countries critical of U.S. policies. Obama answered, ``I would.''

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Clinton immediately seized on Obama's answer to portray him as inexperienced in foreign policy issues, and argued that she wouldn't hold such meetings because ''I don't want to be used for propaganda purposes.'' Later, Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign would turn that verbal exchange into one of its main propaganda weapons against Obama.

But I have reasVer opciones avanzadasons to suspect that Obama misspoke during that primary debate. During an interview he had given me a day earlier, when I asked him pretty much the same question, he responded that he believed in talking with America's foes ``under certain conditions.''

After the CNN-You Tube debate, Obama had little choice but to cling to the ''without preconditions'' theme, while at the same time back-pedaling and saying that this did not mean that he would meet with anti-American leaders ''without preparations.'' It was a semantic solution to control the damage, an Obama campaign source conceded to me on Wednesday.

The second reason why Obama is unlikely to sit down with anti-American foes without preconditions is that whomever he picks as secretary of state -- Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Indiana; Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson are said to be on the short list -- will strongly advise him not to take any chances.


They will tell him that, as a young president who will be under close scrutiny because of his relative inexperience in foreign affairs, he cannot afford to hold such meetings unless there are reasonable guarantees that they will be successful.

''There is no risk of him sitting down with any of these people for a long time, unless they do something that changes the way things are now,'' a source close to the Obama campaign says.
Third, Obama will want to win a second term in 2012 and will seek not to antagonize some of the constituencies -- such as Florida's Hispanic community -- that helped him win Tuesday's election.

Obama won a record 57 percent of the Hispanic vote in Florida, a major achievement in a state where no Democratic presidential candidate has won a majority of the Hispanic vote since the 1980s. Even among Miami's Cuban-American voters, who vote heavily Republican, Obama got a respectable 35 percent of the vote, according to a Bendixen & Associates poll of early voters. That's more than the 25 percent than Democratic candidate Kerry got in 2004, and than the 20 percent that Democrat Al Gore received in 2000.

Obama will not want to squander his party's growing inroads into the Cuban-American community, and the state's non-Cuban Latinos, by coming across as too close to Chávez, or the Castro brothers.

My opinion: Obama is likely to meet his campaign promise to lift restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba, may lower the tone of U.S. rhetoric on Venezuela, and may even shake hands with Chávez at the Summit of the Americas next April in Trinidad and Tobago. But that's as far as he's likely to go.


It will soon become clear that anti-American leaders won't make the slightest concessions to the new administration because they need to keep their conflicts with the United States alive to maintain a climate of imminent danger that justifies their authoritarian rule.

Even if Obama had really wanted to meet with Ahmadinejad, Chávez or Castro without preconditions, they will not give him an opening big enough to justify him doing so. Don't expect big changes on that front.

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