Washington Babylon — November 29, 2007, 12:11 pm

Roger Cohen: Viva Mubarak, Fuera Chavez!

Hugo Chavez has done a lot of good things in Venezuela, like empowering the poor, redistributing wealth, and spending billions of dollars in oil revenues on health and education. Despite those impressive achievements, I hope he loses the referendum Sunday that would eliminate restrictions on presidential reelection and allow him to seek additional terms in office. It’s anti-democratic and it’s hard to understand why he would be the single person capable of leading Venezuela. Is there no one else in Chavez’s political movement able to run the country and implement anti-poverty policies?

That said, it’s amusing to watch American pundits and newspaper editorial boards hysterically denounce Chavez–who has thrice been elected with overwhelming popular support–even as they cheerfully accommodate pro-American dictators elsewhere. Take a look at Roger Cohen’s column today in the New York Times:

[M]ore than spreading socialist ideals, Chávez has spread a form of crony capitalism, dedicated to his greater glory, that has imbued the economy with all the resilience of a house of cards. Chávez’s grab for socialist-emperor status is grotesque and dangerous–as Fascism was–a terrible example for a region that has been consolidating democracy.

Chávez, Cohen continues, “has already used gushing oil revenue, a pliant judiciary, subservient institutions and the galvanizing appeal of vitriolic anti-Americanism to concoct a 21st-century, gulag-free authoritarianism.”

Now contrast that with a column Cohen wrote in November of 2006 about Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak has constructed a 20th century brand of authoritarianism, complete with gulag, enriched his family and friends, and impoverished just about everyone else. Furthermore, Mubarak has ruled since 1981, 17 years longer than Chavez, and has never won a remotely fair vote. Yet Cohen utters hardly a squeak of concern about Mubarak’s terrible rule. (I mentioned this column in passing once before, but it’s so ghastly that it’s worth examining in detail, especially given Cohen’s column today on Chavez.)

Here’s a credulous Cohen on the Egyptian strongman:

Mubarak, prodded by the United States, has dabbled in democratic change in the past couple of years, holding the first multicandidate presidential election last year that ushered him into his fifth term with a handy 88.5 percent of the vote, down several points from the more Orwellian scores he notched up in earlier plebiscites…More reforms are promised next year that would give the legislature greater oversight, adding checks and balances to a system that has long amounted to Mubarak rule by fiat.

Talk about seeing the glass half-full. Of course, the promised reforms never came to pass and Mubarak still rules by fiat. He currently is seeking to hand off power to his son.

In his column today, Cohen talks to no one who is even remotely sympathetic to Chavez, yet he devoted much of his 2006 article to a conversation with Mohamed Kamal, an American-educated crony of Mubarak’s. “We are moving in the right direction,” he quotes him as saying. “The president wants democratizing Egypt to be part of his legacy.”

It gets worse. Cohen effectively endorses Mubarak’s continued rule as long as makes a few meager, empty reforms:

Egypt is critical to the United States. It provides potential avenues to Syria and Iran at a time when engagement with those countries is under review. Its influence on the Palestinian Authority is considerable. Its assistance in fighting terrorism is important. Overall, it’s an element of stability. That’s the return America gets on more than $2 billion in annual aid. Democracy sounds good, but putting all the above at risk in its name looks right now like a perverse proposition, a shot in the foot in the name of a grand idea…. Prudence on democracy seems the only reasonable course. Mubarak’s Egypt is inching in a democratic direction. Overdrive could kill the enterprise, damage American interests, and create further regional turmoil.

Cohen is no democrat. Like so much of the pundit class, he favors democracy when convenient, but when authoritarianism protects “American interests,” dictator-coddling is perfectly fine.

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Postcard October 16, 2013, 8:00 am

The Most Cajun Place on Earth

A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits 

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

May 2015

Black Hat, White Hat

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Beyond the Broken Window

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In Search of a Stolen Fiddle

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Displaced in the D.R.

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Quietest Place in the Universe

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Displaced in the D.R.·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“How is it possible that my birth certificate is invalid if I was born here?”
Photograph by Pierre Michel Jean
Article
The Quietest Place in the Universe·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Gaitskell and his colleagues are approaching the revelation of a new order, a new universe, in which even light will be known differently, and darkness as well.”
Painting by Sebastiaan Bremer
Article
The Test of Time·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“One by one his books dismantle the idea that art consoles, that art contains truths, that art expresses the soul. He insists on the artificiality and createdness of his narratives.”
Article
Saving the Whale, Again·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“While the other Wall Street behemoths are currently tapering their derivatives trading, Citi has been expanding its own.”
Illustration by Ross MacDonald
[Browsings]
On Broadway·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Photograph by the author

Chance that an American would give up at least one week of life to avoid taking a pill every day:

1 in 3

Iowa urologists reported that only a minor portion of locker-room teasing arises from “the presence of excess foreskin”; most teasing targets small penises.

A pair of Russian film directors asked President Vladimir Putin to invest $18 million in a new restaurant chain intended to drive McDonald’s out of the Russian market. “Every project these days,” a Russian television personality said of the proposal, “must be smothered in patriotic sauce.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today