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Obama: The Audacity of Vagueness

Back during the presidential campaign, Barack Obama was pretty vague about what U.S. foreign policy towards Venezuela ought to be. Reluctant to tackle this hot potato, Obama issued rather contradictory statements about his attitude towards the Andean nation. For a subtle analysis of this issue, see my report in the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (scroll down to "The Audacity of Vagueness: Barack Obama and Latin America."

Now that he has been swept into office, what is Obama's policy now? Judging from the contradictory statements put out by the State Department, the administration is conflicted. At first, the State Department praised Venezuela's recent constitutional referendum as free and fair.

But then, diplomats reversed course. According to the Wall Street Journal, the positive remarks "set off a furor among Venezuelan opposition activists and some commentators because the description of Venezuela's referendum seemed markedly different from the tone set by the Bush administration, which repeatedly voiced worry that Mr. Chávez was undermining Venezuela's democracy."

As the right laid into Obama, the State Department quickly backpedaled: "U.S. officials are scrambling to assert that the Obama administration hasn't softened U.S. policy toward Venezuela, where President Hugo Chávez recently won a controversial referendum allowing him to run for office as many times as he wants."

The reports suggest that there may be disagreement within the State Department about how to handle Chavez; different factions may not see eye to eye. The incident is reminescent of the Carter administration, which had contradictory policies towards left wing movements in Latin America some thirty years ago.

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