Should Hugo Chávez be allowed to choose the next U.S. ambassador to Venezuela? He seems to think so, as he is protesting President Obama's nominee for the post.
Larry Palmer is a career diplomat with experience over two decades in the likes of the Dominican Republic, Uruguay, Paraguay and Ecuador. In 2002 George W. Bush named him U.S. ambassador to Honduras.
The Senate is expected to confirm Mr. Palmer for Caracas after its summer recess, but some of his confirmation answers have riled the Venezuelan caudillo. Answering a dozen pointed questions from Richard Lugar of Indiana on human rights and the like, Mr. Palmer went way out on a limb and said U.S. policy should work to "bolster regional cooperation to support democracy and human rights."
He also suggested that José Miguel Insulza, Secretary General of the Organization of American States, should use his office to do the same. He said time and events would determine whether "OAS member states decide to honor their commitments under the Charter and stand up in defense of democracy in Venezuela, or wherever it is threatened." This kind of thing infuriates Mr. Chávez, who has been trying to dominate the OAS and has rolled over Mr. Insulza like fresh asphalt.
Regarding the Venezuelan military, Mr. Palmer referred to its "clear ties" with guerrillas fighting the Colombian government, a decline in its professionalism due to politicization, and concern that "Cuba's influence within the Venezuelan military will grow."
That was all too much for Señor Chávez. "How do you think, Obama, that I am going to accept that gentleman as ambassador? It's impossible," he said on his TV program. "He ruled himself out, breaking all the rules of diplomacy, having a go at us, even the armed forces. Probably you will withdraw him, Obama. Don't insist, I'm asking you."
Sorry, Hugo. Mr. Palmer's answers merely reflect U.S. policy. Perhaps Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should break the news to Mr. Chávez that whoever draws the short straw at State and gets sent to Caracas will carry the same portfolio. She might add that the U.S. doesn't beg countries to accept its ambassadors. If the post stays vacant, so be it.