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Jon Schwarz

Jon Schwarz is editor of and was research producer for 'Capitalism: A Love Story.' He's also contributed to the New Yorker, New York Times, Atlantic, Wall Street Journal, Slate, Saturday Night Live and NPR.

March 11th, 2013 1:35 PM

It Would Be Polite If Americans Who Criticize Hugo Chavez and Venezuela Would Shut Up

Wow, who doesn't sympathize with this righteous, blistering 2006 critique of Bush's foreign policy?

Bush is not spreading human rights...Instead, he is spreading secret prisons everywhere, practicing mean torture in Baghram, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

Well, me, actually. Because that criticism was coming from al Qaeda's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

There aren't many Americans who disliked Bush more than I did. Yet when I hear him being criticized by Zawahiri, it doesn't really…speak to me. To start with, it's hard to take seriously the indignation of someone who would himself set up secret prisons and torture people the second he had the chance. But more importantly, al Qaeda itself helped create the political conditions that allowed Bush to torture people around the world. Sure, maybe in his heart of hearts Bush always wanted to, but he would have had many fewer opportunities if Zawahiri and his pals hadn't plotted to fly airplanes into the World Trade Center.

So I appreciate that Zawahiri wants to both (1) kill 3,000 Americans in lower Manhattan and (2) get all outraged when this empowered members of the Bush administration to attack civil liberties. But you really are only allowed to choose one or the other.

Similarly, the U.S. media has taken the opportunity of Hugo Chavez's death to be OUTRAGED by the violation of civil liberties in Venezuela. And I feel just the same listening to them as I do to Zawahiri.

I have no idea how much of the criticism of the Venezuela government is legitimate, and I'm not going to take the time to find out unless someone pays me to do it. (Given the general crappiness of any coverage of our official enemies, I'd guess it's about 15% accurate.)

But as with Zawahiri, the more important point is that U.S. policy has done nothing but empower any people within the Venezuelan government who are inclined to crack down on freedom of the press, an independent judiciary, etc. It's not just that the U.S. attempted to overthrow the Venezuelan government in 2002; we also overthrew the Aristide government in Haiti in 2004; assisted in the overthrow of the Honduran government in 2009; and have a previous century's worth of meddling in Latin America.

And when countries are under attack, the space for civil liberties diminishes. Sometimes that's for legitimate reasons, and sometimes it's not and is opportunistic on the part of would-be authoritarians. But it's essentially a law of nature; it always happens. Therefore, if you choose to attack another country, you are making certain the people of that country will have fewer civil liberties.

So if you're a member of al Qaeda and you're OUTRAGED by the violation of civil liberties by the U.S., the most effective way you can spend your time is trying to stop your friends from blowing up something else in America. And if you're an American and you're OUTRAGED by a diminishment of civil liberties in Venezuela, the best way to spend your time is trying to stop the U.S. from intervening any more in Venezuela. In both cases, you'll create desperately needed breathing room for Americans or Venezuelans fighting for what you say you want.

But failing that, it would be much more effective and polite if you could just shut up.

Did the Japanese government get OUTRAGED about Japanese in the U.S. getting sent to internment camps? Yes they did.

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