- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 23, 2006

What’s a two-bit strongman to do these days? Headlines are harder to come by for Hugo Chavez; his repertoire of overheated insults doesn’t get the press attention that it used to. So the Venezuelan leader took his routine to United Nations on Wednesday, and capped it off by calling President Bush “the devil” — an attitude that drives Venezuelan foreign policy. Mr. Chavez also managed to call the United Nations “worthless” and its system “anti-democratic” during his diatribe. He believes his speech is part of an effort to build a network of countries capable of countering U.S. power in the world. To Washington, the Venezuelan president’s speech was little more than bluster, as John Bolton, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, said: “We’re not going to address that sort of comic-strip approach to international affairs.”

A salient question now is what the other member states thought of Mr. Chavez’s performance, and whether the tirade affected Venezuela’s chances of securing a rotating seat on the U.N. Security Council, which Mr. Chavez earnestly covets. Even if not in disagreement with the underlying anti-American theme, representatives from several countries — including China, which had previously pledged to support Mr. Chavez’s bid — were shocked by Mr. Chavez’s reckless, headline-grabbing style.

To win the seat, Venezuela needs the support of two-thirds of the General Assembly in a vote on Oct. 16. The Bush administration has actively supported Guatemala as an alternative, and although Mr. Chavez believes he has the votes locked up, Guatemalan officials believe the assembly is more evenly divided. If neither country receives the necessary number of votes, the assembly will continue to vote, giving rise to the possibility that a third candidate — Uruguay, the Dominican Republic or Panama — will emerge as a compromise.

This may be an opportunity for the United States and other backers of Guatemala’s bid, including Mexico, to lobby against Venezuela. A good place to start would be with the moderate countries in South America, including presumptive Chavez supporters Argentina and Brazil. Neither country should think that their region is best served by giving over one of its two rotating security council seats to be wasted merely serving Mr. Chavez’s megalomania.

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