U.S. Gen. Douglas Fraser on Tuesday backed up President Obama’s appraisal that Venezuela does not represent a threat to U.S. security. The only thing that statement proves is that both men refuse to acknowledge a menace that has grown worse on their watch.
Gen. Fraser is the last in a long line of regional commanders who have refused to mud-wrestle with Hugo Chavez. I have profound respect for men and women who are willing to risk their lives fighting our enemies or ordering others to do so, and I understand fully why they want to keep such conflicts to a minimum. However, the best way to prevent such confrontations is to kick over rocks to find the hidden threats and to take careful measure of our foes.
On Gen. Fraser’s watch, Mr. Chavez has consolidated a narco-state in Venezuela. U.S. law enforcement and federal prosecutors have gathered fresh, compelling evidence implicating Venezuela’s National Assembly president, minister of defense and Mr. Chavez himself in narcotics trafficking. If a foreign military using its personnel, vehicles and aircraft to shovel cocaine onto U.S. streets and schoolyards is not a national security threat, what is? If such activities by Venezuela’s government are not a threat, why do we spend billions of dollars to counter the problem? Why does Gen. Fraser’s own command website call drug trafficking “a significant threat to security and stability in the Western Hemisphere”?
On Gen. Fraser’s watch, Mr. Chavez and his senior military commanders have provided material, financial, logistical and political support for Colombian drug traffickers who are branded terrorists by the U.S. government. American authorities know Mr. Chavez’s regime has issued Venezuelan passports or visas to thousands of Middle Eastern terrorists and offered safe haven to Hezbollah trainers, operatives, recruiters and fundraisers. During a March visit to Southern Command headquarters in Miami, now Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin E. Dempsey said, “[W]e recognize the threat that transnational organized crime presents, not just because of what they transport to our shores, but what they could also transport — terrorists and weapons and weapons of mass destruction.”
On Gen. Fraser’s watch, a half-dozen Iranian companies sanctioned by United Nations, U.S. or European authorities have built suspicious industrial installations at various sites in Venezuela. Those facilities were important enough to attract secret visits by Iranian Maj. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the Revolutionary Guard Corps aerospace commander, who previously headed Iran’s missile program, in July 2009 and November 2011.
On Gen. Fraser’s watch, the Russians have sold at least $9 billion in arms to Venezuela and will complete construction of a factory in Maracay that can produce about 25,000 assault rifles per year. The latest $4 billion Russian line of credit announced in June will go toward arming Chavista militias in the midst of Venezuela’s Oct. 7 presidential elections.
On Gen. Fraser’s watch, Mr. Chavez’s regime has sent arms to Hezbollah (ammunition, grenades, rockets, etc., intercepted in 2009 by Israeli commandos), shipped fuel to Syria and laundered billions of dollars for Iran. If Hezbollah, Syria and Iran are considered threats to U.S. national security interests, Venezuela’s crucial support for each of them should be, too. Although these activities do not pose a classic conventional threat, they are precisely the kind of asymmetrical tactics that our enemies favor today.
On Gen. Fraser’s watch, Venezuela’s internal security apparatus has been managed by Cuba, a country the U.S. State Department on Tuesday designated a state sponsor of terrorism. That same report cited Venezuela’s “economic, financial and diplomatic cooperation with Iran.” Mr. Chavez’s aides make no secret of ongoing oil shipments to a third terrorist state, Syria. A regime with intimate ties to three of the world’s four terror states would have to try quite hard not to be a threat. Alas, it appears that some U.S. officials are trying much harder not to notice.
The career diplomats who manage our Venezuela policy are convinced that criticizing Mr. Chavez “strengthens” or “provokes” him. They have tested this hypothesis as Mr. Chavez, undeterred, has undermined the regional consensus in favor of human rights and democracy and against drugs and terrorism. Likewise, he has forged an important alliance with Iran, climbed into bed with narcotraffickers and terrorists, armed his anti-democratic regime to the teeth and prepared to hold on indefinitely to absolute power. Diplomats can walk away from such blunders. Soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen cannot.
Roger F. Noriega was ambassador to the Organization of American States from 2001 to 2003 and assistant secretary of state from 2003 to 2005. He is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and managing director of Vision Americas LLC.