At the best of times, the U.S. government is regarded as somewhat out of touch with what's happening in the American "heartland," much less the world at large, so much so that the phrase "inside the Beltway" was coined to define the syndrome.
But every now and again, an incident occurs that so perfectly encapsulates Washington's self-absorbed navel gazing that little further comment is needed.
On 9 January U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland provided such a "Kodak moment" to the Washington press corps.
The object of her concern? Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's visit to Latin America, where he is touring Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador and Nicaragua.
Nuland said that, because of its civilian nuclear energy program, which both Washington and Tel Aviv believe masks a covert nuclear program despite persistent denials by Tehran, Iran should have no friends and that "We are making absolutely clear to countries around the world that now is not the time to be deepening ties, not security ties, not economic ties, with Iran."
During a regularly scheduled State Department press briefing Nuland gravely observed that Iran had "obviously carefully" chosen the four countries but "We are, meanwhile, calling on all of these countries to do what they can to impress upon the Iranian regime that the course that it's on in its nuclear dialogue with the international community is the wrong one. And, frankly, we think it's in the interest of all countries, including the countries that he (Ahmadinejad) is visiting in Latin America, that Iran proves the peaceful intent of its nuclear program to the world."
The view from Caracas?
During a meeting with Ahmadinejad, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez tartly accused the U.S. and its European allies of demonizing Iran and using false claims about the nuclear issue "like they used the excuse of weapons of mass destruction to do what they did in Iraq. They (the U.S.) accuse us of being warmongers. They're the threat," adding that Ahmadinejad is traveling through "the axis of evil of Latin America."
Driving the point home, Ahmadinejad commented, "They say we're making a bomb. Fortunately, the majority of Latin American countries are aware. Everyone knows that those words... are a joke. It's something to laugh at. It's clear they're afraid of our development."
What is Venezuela getting out of its dalliance with charter "axis of evil" Iran?
According to Chavez, Iran has helped his country build 14,000 homes as well as factories that produce food, tractors and vehicles. During Ahmadinejad's visit, Iranian and Venezuelan government officials signed two agreements promoting industrial cooperation and worker training.
Why might Venezuela take such an uppity stance against Washington's wishes? Well, for a start the U.S. government was deeply implicated in a failed 2002 military coup against Chavez. And last year, the U.S. imposed sanctions on Venezuelan state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA for delivering at least two cargoes of refined oil products to Iran.
From Venezuela, on 10 January Ahmadinejad flew to Nicaragua to attend the inauguration of President Daniel Ortega, elected to a third term last November.
And why might Nicaragua be disinclined to heed Washington's advice? Perhaps the fact that President Ortega was one of the Sandinista leader who in 1979 overthrew the corrupt presidency of Anatasio Somoza, only to find itself under attack by U.S. armed and funded "Contra" insurgents operating out of neighboring Honduras in an eight-year campaign.
And, in one of those piquant ironies of history, the Reagan administration, in order to support the Contras after Congress blocked funding, in 1986-1987 covertly sold weapons for cash to... Iran, leading to the notorious "Iran-Contra" affair.
And Cuba? Well, since the U.S. has blockaded the country with economic sanctions since 1960 and currently has no direct diplomatic relations, perhaps Nuland's entreaties will receive less consideration in Havana than they might.
Which leaves Ecuador, whose president, Rafael Vicente Correa, an economist by training educated in Belgium and the United States, took office in January 2007.
And what has President Correa done to antagonize the U.S.?
In December 2008, he declared Ecuador's national debt illegitimate, arguing that it had been contracted by previous despotic regimes, pledging to fight creditors in international courts of jurisdiction. Even worse, Correa in June 2009 brought Ecuador into the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra America (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas, or ALBA) founded by Chavez in alliance with Cuba in 2004.
The biggest story overlooked by the Washington press corps over the past decade, fixated as it was on the Bush administration's "global war on terror" (GWOT) was Latin America's increasing assertiveness and independence from America's dictates, whose policies towards its southern neighbors even the august Council on Foreign Relations labeled "hegemony." It apparently has yet to occur to either Ms. Nuland or her superiors that countries south of the Rio Grande regard the Monroe Doctrine as a dead letter.
But Ahmedinejad's biggest secret diplomatic weapon is treating his Latin American hosts with respect, as equals. Until those "inside the Beltway" learn that simple lesson and that it's no longer 1823, the year the Monroe Doctrine was proclaimed, it would seem that the Washington press corps is bound to endure further briefings from Ms. Nuland.
By. John C.K. Daly of oilprice.com