Right-wing media are amplifying attacks on President Obama over his recent dismissal of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez as a threat to the United States, while ignoring that experts are in agreement with Obama.
In an interview with a Miami television station on Wednesday, Obama said, "We're always concerned about Iran engaging in destabilizing activity around the globe." He added, "But overall, my sense is that what Mr. Chavez has done over the last several years has not had a serious national security impact on us."
In response, Republicans, including presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Sen. Marco Rubio (FL), attacked Obama for downplaying the threat of Chávez and suggested that he is weak on national security.
Experts, however, have offered assessments that support Obama's remarks. In a statement to The Miami Herald, Riordan Roett, the director of Western Hemisphere Studies and the Latin American Studies Program at John Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies, dismissed the criticism as "just pure electoral politics."
Roett said that Chávez "poses no security threat to the United States or anyone else," adding:
Hugo Chávez is not going to attack us, he's not going to occupy our embassy, he's not going to bomb U.S. planes arriving in Caracas at Maiquetía Airport. He is a loudmouth who enjoys listening to himself, and has built up on the basis of oil revenue, a very, very populist, dependent regime that can't deliver on basic services, on goods and commodities to his own people.
Ray Walser, a Senior Policy Analyst specializing in Latin America at The Heritage Foundation and one of Romney's foreign policy advisers, wrote in a May 7 blog post:
Faced with a serious electoral challenge, Chavez has been commuting back and forth to Havanasince February. Physical evidence and steady outpourings of the rumor factory say that despite three surgeries and other treatments, Chavez's health continues to deteriorate. Incapacity and/or death appear increasingly probable within months. Recent tearful public appearances by Chavez, including prayers for a miraculous recovery, add credence to the assumption.
As the Los Angeles Times noted, Walser's assessment is "somewhat at odds with" Romney's warning about Chávez. The Los Angeles Times also noted, "The most immediate danger, Walser indicated, may well be internal instead -- to human rights and democracy, as Venezuelans prepare to choose a new president this fall, a concern that aligned closely with Obama's remark in the interview about the need for free and fair elections in Venezuela."
Nevertheless, right-wing media amplified the Republican attacks on Obama without noting that experts disagree.
In a post headlined, "Gov. Romney Counters Obama Support Of Hugo Chavez," Breitbart.com contributor AWR Hawkins wrote:
Gov. Mitt Romney has issued a statement in response to Obama's claim that Hugo Chavez is not a "serious" national security threat to the US: such a claim necessarily overlooks Chavez's support of tyrants the world over, including Iran, and Chavez's avowed hatred of Israel.
At the close of his statement, Romney hit a Reagan-like stride: "President Obama's comments continue a pattern of weakness in his foreign policy, and that has emboldened adversaries and diminished U.S. influence in every region of the world. As president, I will speak clearly and resolutely on the challenges we face so that both our allies and our adversaries know where we stand."
In other words, no more "mother may I" approach to foreign policy and no more cold shoulder toward Israel.
The Drudge Report posted the headline "ROMNEY: 'Stunning and shocking'..." and linked to a Weekly Standard blog post with a similar headline. The Weekly Standard post highlighted Romney's criticism but ignored the opinions of experts.
Fox News contributor and former Bush administration official John Bolton wrote in a post to his Twitter feed, "In Obama's naive worldview, Chavez helping Iran evade sanctions to develop nuclear weapons is not a "serious" national security threat."