Sunday, September 24, 2006



From the Independent :

The tabloids in New York had a message for Hugo Chavez of Venezuela: the "Crackpot of Caracas" should "zip it" and go home.

They didn't care for him calling President George Bush the "Devil" at the United Nations on Tuesday, or "an alcoholic and a sick man" as he did at a church in Harlem on Thursday.

If President Chavez hoped last week to add to Mr Bush's political troubles at home he surely failed. So crude were his insults even Democrats were falling over one another to condemn them.

"Even though many people in the United States are critical of our President, we resent the fact that he would come to the United States and criticise President Bush," said a New York Democrat, Charles Rangel.

With the help of Iran's equally unflinching leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and a few others, Mr Chavez successfully hijacked this year's UN General Assembly and turned it into a raucous carnival of anti-Americanism. It perhaps will not hurt Mr Bush's domestic standing, but for American diplomacy abroad it was, at the very least, unsettling.

"It has been one of the most shrill displays of anti-Americanism in recent years," noted one Security Council envoy, referring to the Chavez and Ahmadinejad double-act. Nile Gardiner, of the Heritage Foundation, said: "This is a huge public diplomacy challenge, but also a strategic threat." He called the Chavez Devil invocation "the strongest attack from any foreign leader on US soil in decades".

Mr Ahmadinejad, who is engaged in a perilous stand-off with Europe and the US over his country's nuclear ambitions, used his time in New York to articulate his Holocaust doubts again while repeatedly assailing the "hegemonic powers" for imposing "their exclusionist policies on international decision-making mechanisms, including the Security Council".

The talk in New York is of a new "Axis of the South" that made itself felt even before the Assembly. at the meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement in Havana last weekend, where Messrs Chavez and Ahmadinejad ensured anti-Americanism became the dominant theme. Cuba's Vice President, Carlos Lage Davile, used the Havana stage to lambast "the worldwide dictatorship by the United States".

The members of this so-called axis are united by their increasingly bold attacks on America even if elsewhere their philosophies divide. At the UN, they seemed also to include President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, who, in this new context of America-bashing, finds it much easier to resist efforts by the UN, strongly supported by the US, to deploy a blue-helmet peacekeeping force in Darfur. Count in also Evo Morales of Bolivia.

Even America's ally, Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, created his own ripples, revealing that the US threatened to bomb his country "into the Stone Age" if he did not join the war against terror.

Colour was added to the week by the reappearance of props in the Assembly chamber in the tradition of Khrushchev and the banging of his shoe. Mr Morales waved a coca leaf at delegates as he lamented the US policy of trying to destroy coca crops in his country. And Mr Chavez brandished the recent Noam Chomsky tome Hegemony and Survival, recommending that everyone read it. Yesterday, it had leapt to the number one bestseller on Amazon.

Mr Chavez embarrassed himself later at his press conference, expressing regret that he hadn't met Mr Chomsky before his death. The latter, who of course is still alive and well, surfaced yesterday saying he would enjoy talking to Mr Chavez. He also said many of the points being made by Mr Chavez were actually "quite constructive".

Indeed, while US officials have attempted to brand Mr Chavez and Mr Ahmadinejad as clowns, much of what they are saying - particularly the Iranian leader's characterisation of the Security Council as a relic of the Second World War composed of nations who feel entitled to world dictatorship - reverberate closely with the feelings of a large number of countries not quite so bold in speaking their minds.

These beneath-the-surface sympathies may spell more trouble for the US as the UN membership prepares to vote next month on filling the five non-permanent Security Council seats that will become free at the end of the year.

Washington is pushing hard for Guatemala to represent the Latin American block, but there are clear signs that victory may go to Venezuela.

Its presence on the council will make it much harder for the US to gain the votes it will need on a series of important issues.