Normally in such circumstances, an American president would show reserve. The weirdly ebullient Mr. Obama did not, and that image was the photo seen ’round the world.
In New York this week, I asked a former Eastern European dissident who spent time in prison under the Communists: “If you were sitting in a cell in Cuba, Iran or Syria and saw this photo of a smiling American president shaking hands with a smiling Hugo Chávez, what would you think?“
He said: “I would think that I was losing ground.”
The hopeful way to view the Obama administration’s openings to Chávez, the Castros, Iran and the others would be: This had better work. Because if it doesn’t, a lot of people who’ve spent years working in opposition to these regimes — in hiding or in prison in Iran, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela, China, Russia, Burma, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Uzbekistan — are going to get hammered. North Korea’s opposition is invisible.
Other than physically controlling their populations, the biggest problem for autocrats — most of them narcissistic monomaniacs — is maintaining the legitimacy of their authority, which by definition is always on thin ice. To Mr. Obama and his handlers perhaps it was just a photo-op. For Mr. Chávez it was priceless.
I saw this in print, and felt compelled to link to it online. It’s not “weird” to me that Obama was “ebullient”… he was ecstatic to be with his fellow comrade.