On Hugo Chavez…

John Kerry: “Throughout his time in office, President Chavez has repeatedly undermined democratic institutions by using extra-legal means, including politically motivated incarcerations, to consolidate power.”

New York Times: “A Polarizing Figure Who Led a Movement” “strutting like the strongman in a caudillo novel”

Human Rights Watch: “Venezuela: Hugo Chávez’s Authoritarian Legacy”

On King Abdullah…

John Kerry: “King Abdullah was a man of wisdom & vision.”

New York Times: “Nudged Saudi Arabia Forward” “earned a reputation as a cautious reformer” “a force of moderation”

Human Rights Watch: “Saudi Arabia: King’s Reform Agenda Unfulfilled”


  1. freespeechlover January 27, 2015 at 3:05 pm | #

    Thumbs up.

  2. Corner January 27, 2015 at 3:14 pm | #

    I don’t know what you mean by the title of the post Corey. But I can attempt an explanation. Sure, geopolitical interests and strategy plausibly explain the variation among state officials like Kerry. We can–and already do–criticize those case by case, especially on the premises undergirding those interests and the ends of the strategies. But among newspapers and HRW it seems equally plausible that the variation in reception is explained by Venezuela and Saudi Arabia being held to different standards and expectations. To be sure, a minute decrease in torture or politically motivated incarcerations, for example, in either country would be applauded as a triumph by HRW. Yet a minute change in policy vis-a-vis women’s rights in KSA–even if BS–meanwhile is held as revolutionary, because of the different and standards and explanations I described. So, we get: “Nudged Saudi Arabia Forward” “earned a reputation as a cautious reformer”, “a force of moderation”.

    • foppejan2 January 27, 2015 at 3:35 pm | #

      I think it would be rather wise to refuse people the right to let (their) (ideas about other people’s) “expectations” color their judgments… As evidenced by Corey’s post, most of the time the judgments being expressed tell you/the attentive listener rather more about the judge, than they tell you about the person(s) being judged.

      • Corner January 27, 2015 at 4:56 pm | #

        Foppejan2: I don’t disagree. No where do I suggest that it is wise to “let” the expectations of others color our own judgments. That would be idiotic. I’m just suggesting that it’d be wrong to suggest the following: there is a bias in above divergent receptions that can be traced to and explained by a common cause. I felt that implicit in the post. I could be wrong. It is up to Corey to clarify. Whatever the case, I was interested in explaining the divergent receptions. And so I drew a distinction between the causes of Kerry’s reception of Chavez and the King, and the causes of the newspapers’ and HRW’s reception of Chavez and the King.

    • lazycat1984 January 27, 2015 at 3:44 pm | #

      Gleischaltung means roughly ‘co ordination’ it was a NS program in the 30s to bring german institutions on message.

  3. debmeier January 27, 2015 at 3:16 pm | #

    Marvelous, Corey. I’ll find a way to use it.


    • Paul Sawyer January 27, 2015 at 3:36 pm | #

      Me too–marvelous! I’m teaching a course now on the 1960s, and the topic of media uniformity will emerge prominently very soon, as we approach the build-up to the Vietnam War. I’m always looking for contemporary parallels in order to make the past plausible. Thanks again for your good work. Paul Sawyer

  4. Felipe January 27, 2015 at 3:39 pm | #

    Sometimes I wonder, should I have continued my subscription to the NYT (that I cancelled like 8 months ago)? Nah, I can see that I’m not missing anything. Corey, thank you for this reminder.

  5. lazycat1984 January 27, 2015 at 3:46 pm | #

    Ha! Re the lame gruelpropaganda against Chavez…what is a ‘caudillo’ novel. Wasn’t Franco the Caudillo? The most uninspiring strongman in the 20th century

  6. Roquentin January 27, 2015 at 3:55 pm | #

    Oil money doesn’t give a shit. It’s also worth noting that Saudi Arabia is the originator of the Salafist/Wahabi strain of Islam, the militant, reactionary flavor which has gained so much popularity in the latter half of the 20th century. A whole lot of that oil money flowed into the Wahhabi movement, and a lot of people don’t understand just how recent this development within Islam is. It exposes grandstanding about human rights from the beltway in the US as what it is, a sham. I talk about going to Russia too much, but just the same I have never trusted the proclamations of organizations talking about human rights, civil liberties, media freedom the same sense. At the very least, there is and always has been an agenda, capital, raw political power flowing right underneath the surface.

  7. Troy Grant January 27, 2015 at 4:00 pm | #

    Truly nauseating.

  8. SC January 27, 2015 at 4:09 pm | #

    DoD is sponsoring an essay contest to honor King Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz . . . scholars take note!

  9. Hattie January 27, 2015 at 4:22 pm | #

    Enough said.

  10. Joel in Oakland January 27, 2015 at 4:37 pm | #

    Just to add the obvious, Venezuela doesn’t lead the world in beheading; they don’t use their oil money to support terrorist training schools, nor were their citizens responsible for 9/11. Some force for “moderation” and stability.

    • bythefault January 28, 2015 at 12:39 pm | #

      Actually Venezuela under Chávez did support “terrorist training schools” for the FARC and for the Basque Separatist group ETA. And Venezuela according to some accounts have the world’s worst prisons. And like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela did its oil wealth to subvert the political process in other countries. Paraguay broke off relations with Venezuela after Chávez was found to be financially supporting a political party there. And there was the case of a $2 million USD suitcase confiscated in Buenos Aires. From Chávez sent to the Kirchners. The money was returned.

      The comparison of Venezuela to Saudi Arabia isn’t a fair one. Saudi Arabia is horrid place, no dispute there but it is not a Western society nor does it subscribe to Hellenistic values. Venezuela is Western and was once a democracy.

  11. Roquentin January 27, 2015 at 4:43 pm | #

    Also vaguely on topic (” Gleichschaltung” is the title of this post after all). I had dinner with my neighbors this week, both very nice people whom I am fond of, and WWII came up. It started with them mentioning they had seen American Sniper (nails across a blackboard to me). It turned into one of those “which side has killed more people” discussions. You know the line: “The Holocaust only consisted of 6 million people, Stalin and Mao killed far more.” It wasn’t until I got home that the full weight of how wrong that oft repeated statement is hit me. At least 20 million Russian civilians bit the dust during operation Barbarossa. That’s 3 times the size of the Holocaust. Why is that number never put at Hitler’s feet? Is it because it makes Stalin look less monstrous, or is what was done to the people living in the USSR somehow not included in the definition of mass murder by this count? Hitler’s stated goal was to wipe Petersburg off the map…. If you include that number in the tally, Hitler would be responsible for closer to 30 million people. Oh, the way statistics slide back and forth based on the ideology at hand.

    And I know about all of the terrible things attributable to Stalin: the purges, the Holodmor, forced resettlements, Gulags, the plan to deport all Jews from Moscow and launch WWIII during the 50s right before his suspicious death… Somehow, I don’t think that’s what it’s about. Those statistics are disseminated to make sure no one starts investigating Communism, that the minute someone hears the term they think “murder” and “repression.” That’s what is going on. A relic of the Cold War maybe. You can still even hear some Americans today say that we played the largest military role in defeating the Axis, an argument so patently false it should be laughed out of serious scholarship.

  12. caseyjaywork January 27, 2015 at 5:10 pm | #

    Reblogged this on Casey Jaywork.

  13. xenon2 January 27, 2015 at 5:24 pm | #

    That DoD has an essay contest, over the death of King Abdullah, is like something from The Onion.


  14. oosorio456 January 27, 2015 at 7:03 pm | #

    It’s clearly a double standard in U.S. foreign policy.

  15. bythefault January 28, 2015 at 8:51 am | #

    The comparison is not apt. Saudi Arabia was never a democracy, and however imperfect Venezuela was for at least a brief period. King Abdullah was born into monarchy. Chávez destroyed what was left of Venezuela’s brief experiment in democratic norms. Venezuela was throughout the 19th century the poorest country in South America and on a continent that includes Bolivia and Paraguay, the most authoritarian. Even Simón Bolívar described the component parts of New Granada as “Ecuador is a monastery, Colombia a university and Venezuela a barrack.” Venezuela would be the last South American nation to achieve this feat: a peaceful transfer of power. That would be in 1963. Colombia, by comparison, achieved that in 1832. In truth, one has to see Venezuela’s democratic period (1958-1999) as an interregnum between two authoritarian systems. Chavismo is nothing more than a return to the norm of caudilloism that has governed Venezuela since its inception in 1830. The three quotes or links you place are entirely accurate and frankly rather benign given that Venezuela is in the process of becoming a totalitarian state and a pariah. It is a country where merely criticizing the government can land you in jail. A free press barely exists. This month one of the two remaining opposition newspaper announced that it will cease daily publication in February. Why? Because it has been litigated to death by the government in suit after suit.

    For the uninformed, caudillo is the the Spanish word for “strongman.” Caudilloism is a theory advanced by many academics to explain why Latin American societies have succumbed to authoritarianism.

    Venezuela’s predicament is rather dire. It is no longer a question of if Venezuela defaults but when. Its debt to foreign reserve ratio is now over 200 percent. Greece, for the record, was bailed out at 178 percent. Unlike Argentina which is in a technical default as a result of its legal wrangling with US and UK hedge funds, a Venezuelan default promises to be a cataclysmic event. Argentina can provide for itself. Venezuela cannot. It imports 70 percent of its food, 90 percent of its medicine. And for a country that sits on top of the world’s largest hydrocarbons reserves, last year Venezuela was forced to import gasoline from Algeria. Venezuela is a country that can’t even wipe its own ass.

    There’s one other matter that is rather important in explaining Venezuela’s current predictament. Corruption. When Chávez was elected in 1999, he campaigned on an anti-corruption platform. The Venezuelan liberal state of 1958-1999 was indeed rather corrupt. Transparency International based in Berlin ranked Venezuela 45th in terms of corruption. Today it ranks 178th (the higher the number, the more corrupt). No country has fallen as hard in such a short time. Out of the 190 countries ranked, Venezuela is exceeded only by Afghanistan, Iraq and ten African countries. But that doesn’t even begin to tell the tale of Venezuelan corruption. Last month, the former head of Hugo Chávez’s security detail fled to Madrid. He’s now in New York taking to US officials. He’s providing testimony on Diosdado Cabello, the head of Venezuela’s National Assembly and a former military leader like Chávez. Capello is accused of running a drug cartel called Los Soles that controls 70 percent of the cocaine moving from South America to Europe. I’m not surprised for that is what Venezuela is, a narco-state on the verge of collapse.

    • Troy Grant January 28, 2015 at 10:15 am | #

      With US agencies and corporations dedicating millions to overthrowing their governments, how long would Chavez or Fidel have lasted had they not cracked down?

      • bythefault January 28, 2015 at 12:29 pm | #

        That notion that US companies are trying to overthrow chavismo is laughable. The problem at its core is the three tiered exchange rate and a corruption beyond belief. Just look at the airline industry in Venezuela. The number of airlines that used to fly to Venezuela was over 40. The number now under 20. Alitalia, Air Canada, Air France, TAME (the Ecuadorean airline), American Airlines, Avianca, Lufthansa, COPA, BWIA, KLM Royal Dutch, Iberia among others have all suspended all operations or reduced them to minimal service. American now has but one Miami-Caracas flight a day. It had three a day. Avianca has a three times weekly Bogotá-Caracas. It used to have two a day. Why? Because the Venezuelan government owes just the airline sector over $4 billion in payment arrears.

        Cuba isn’t falling apart. Venezuela is. Ask yourself why.

      • SC January 28, 2015 at 1:59 pm | #

        Um, “That notion that US companies are trying to overthrow charisma is laughable . . . ”

        So, this whole business is laughable?'état_attempt

      • s. wallerstein January 28, 2015 at 2:44 pm | #

        I agree with you about Fidel. But Cuba had to face an invasion (Bay of Pigs), the missile crisis, countless attempts to murder Fidel by the CIA, sabotage by the CIA and an economic embargo.

        There is no embargo against Venezuela and in fact, the U.S. is one of the best customers for Venezuela’s oil. There was an attempted coup against Chavez in 2002, undoubtedly fomented by the CIA, but Chavez controls the military and the coup failed.

        In fact, Chavez and Maduro have mismanaged the economy. Violent crime is out of control, with one of the highest homicide rates in the world. By the way, everyone, even those who criticize the Cuban revolution, points out that La Habana is one of the safest cities in the world, with almost no violent crime.

        In contrast, another anti-imperialist president, Evo Morales, in Bolivia, who has had to face a CIA supported campaign against him just like Chavez and Maduro, has a booming economy and has managed to deal with an opposition campaign, once again undoubtedly financed by the CIA, from the eastern part of Bolivia.

        Morales is a political wizard, formed as a grassroots activist, while Chavez was a military officer, used to ordering people around, facts which may account for Morales’s success and the disaster produced by Chavez and Co.

    • lazycat1984 January 28, 2015 at 12:49 pm | #

      I’d have to agree in large measure with Troy. Chavez always reminded me of Mussolini, strutting around with his chest out. But he was committed to making sure some of the oil money percolated down to popular programs. As with Cuba, it’s really hard to know just how it would have worked out or not if the US had got its shiny jump-boots off latin america’s neck. A lot of cronyism seems to have seeped into Chavez’ apparatus. But then the western media, through which I get most of my information is always eager to portray the current government as hopelessly corrupt and venal…not like the Mexican government which is committed to free market reforms and the defense of private property.

  16. ClichesToWrite January 28, 2015 at 12:19 pm | #

    Reblogged this on ClichesToWrite and commented:
    To torque Foucault: maybe we will never cut the head off the king.

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