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Bush-Chavez II

October 20, 2006

¿QUIEN ES MAS MACHO, Hugo Chavez or George W. Bush? Or more to the point, which of the two is the biggest loser in the eyes of the world?

It seems that the United Nations General Assembly finds both pretty objectionable. Chavez's Venezuela looks like it's heading toward defeat in its bid for a nonpermanent seat on the 15-member Security Council, a heavy blow for its fiery president. But Venezuela's loss is hardly a ringing endorsement for the Bush administration, which has thrown its diplomatic weight behind Guatemala. After 35 rounds of balloting from Monday to Thursday, neither Latin American country could come close to the two-thirds vote needed to win.

Deadlocks can be resolved in one of two ways. Either the country with the least votes -- in this case Venezuela -- concedes, or they both agree to drop out in favor of a third candidate. Chavez has said he has no intention of quitting, and neither does Guatemala, meaning this could go on for a long time indeed. The U.N. record is 155 rounds of voting in a battle between Cuba and U.S.-backed Colombia in 1979. The seat ended up going to Mexico.

The election is a referendum of sorts between Chavez, who in a notorious rant before the General Assembly in September referred to Bush as "the devil," and the White House. If Venezuela prevails, Chavez intends to personally attend Security Council meetings to "defend dignity and truth" -- meaning oppose the United States at nearly every turn.

Chavez stands to lose the most if, as expected, neither Guatemala nor Venezuela wins. Obtaining the Security Council seat has been the single-minded goal in what passes for his foreign policy agenda, and it was the focus of a recent globe-trotting tour of such nations as Iran, Russia and China.

The U.S. has far less to lose because, even if Guatemala fails, pretty much any Latin American or Caribbean country except Cuba would be less harmful to U.S. interests.

Still, Venezuela's continued support from a large portion of the developing world, even after Chavez's clownish antics last month, is a discouraging indicator of international anger toward the United States. Many argue that White House arm-twisting on behalf of Guatemala may have actually harmed the country's chances, though it's likely that the pressure pushed at least as many countries to vote yes as no.

More troubling is a recent report from the State Department showing that just 25% of U.N. member states voted in line with the U.S. last year, down from 50% a decade earlier. Bush may win this battle, but he's giving ground in the larger diplomatic war.

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