On the way to a defense ministerial in Bolivia, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was asked about Iran’s growing presence in South America, particularly in Bolivia and Venezuela. He answered most cautiously:
Bolivia, obviously, can have relationships with any country in the world that it wishes to. … But I think Bolivia needs to be mindful of the number of United Nations Security Council resolutions that have been passed with respect to Iran’s behavior.
Gates said exactly what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last year. Nevertheless, at the defense ministerial—designed to advance inter-American security cooperation—Gates, in the best Obama Administration manner, offered an olive branch to his Bolivian hosts.
As a hemisphere, we are more tightly linked than ever; never before has our collective well-being depended so much on one another. As Peru’s recent Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa once said, “one can’t fight with oneself, for this battle has only one loser.”
For his effort at diplomacy, Gates was taunted for an hour by Bolivia’s populist authoritarian president, Evo Morales. In a raging discourse, Morales, playing the role of victim and winner, said the following:
- He claimed that the U.S (under Presidents Bush and Obama) have/are working to destabilize Latin America, plotting coups and assassinations;
- Despite “U.S. interventions,” the people’s revolutions are ahead in the game. Claimed Morales: “Latin American compatriots, we must recognize that the U.S. beat us in Honduras, the North American empire beat us. But the people of America also won in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador. The score is 3–1”
- He accused U.S. Representative Connie Mack (R–FL) of being “a confessed assassin” and “conspiratorial agent against our brother Hugo Chavez.”
On Iran, Morales proclaimed: “Bolivia under my government will have an agreement, an alliance, to anyone in the world! Nobody will forbid us!” Read: the U.S. has no international or moral authority to comment on any alliance or friendship that Bolivia chooses to make, particularly with Iran.
The Gates fiasco in Bolivia yields four takeaway points:
- While he may not be the nightmare to the U.S. he longs to be, Morales demonstrated in his speech a quantity of venom, a lack of restraint, and complete disrespect for the U.S. that befits a bully and tyrant. It is time for the U.S. to speak up and go on the offense.
- The State Department’s tireless efforts to curry favor with Morales continue to fall on stony soil. They should cease.
- Regional organizations like the Organization of American States and events such as the Defense Ministerials of the Americas cannot bridge the ideological divides and pacify bad actors. Senior U.S. officials do not have to travel and pay to be publicly humiliated.
- Our new U.S. Congress needs to look closely at aid to Bolivia, whose president insults cabinet members, attacks individual Members of Congress, and appears to be doing quite fine with Venezuelan, Cuban, Iranian, and Russian help.
Congress and the Obama Administration should give Morales a red card.