WASHINGTON - The arms embargo recently announced by the U.S. against the revolutionary regime in Venezuela is long overdue. Venezuela's dictator, Hugo Chavez, has gone out of his way to align his country with terrorist regimes, aid extremist movements and break anti-terrorism treaty obligations.
But at least one of our North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies wants to ignore U.S. security concerns and sell military equipment to Venezuela - while competing to sell the same equipment to the U.S. Coast Guard and Pentagon.
Worse, that ostensible ally is collaborating with the dictator's propaganda campaign to trash the United States, while simultaneously lobbying Congress for billions of dollars to buy its military products.
In a globalized economy, it's no longer possible to procure defense systems that are 100-percent made in America. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, provided the suppliers are reliable allies who share U.S. security concerns. But in the Venezuela case, the suppliers - the Spanish government and the state-owned aircraft manufacturer CASA - are no longer reliable.
Until two years ago, Spain was a staunch ally in the global war on terrorists and their supporters. Most observers expected Spain's pro-U.S. government to win re-election until the al Qaeda bombings of the Madrid transit system propelled the Socialist Workers Party to power.
In one of his first acts in office, after pledging to pull Spain from the Iraq coalition, President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero flew to Venezuela to sell military patrol boats and CASA CN-235 transport planes to the dictator Chavez.
The Bush administration, after fruitlessly voicing its concerns to Spain, invoked a 1992 law allowing the United States to veto other countries' sale of military hardware built with U.S.-made components.
Undeterred, CASA stripped out nearly five dozen U.S.-made parts to allow the sale to Chavez. From that point, the Spanish and Venezuelan governments conspired to rub it in America's face abroad, while CASA lobbied in Washington for U.S. tax dollars.
The game worked.
Last November, after CASA lobbyists had gotten Congress to spend $68 million on the first Coast Guard CN-235s, Spanish Defense Minister Jose Bono flew to Caracas "to stress what (Chavez) described as a 'defeat' of the United States," according to the major Madrid daily El Pais. In Caracas, Bono publicly criticized the United States as an "empire" as he stood with Chavez, who praised Spain for "confronting the hegemonic and imperialistic ambitions of the elite that now governs the United States (and is) massacring the people of Iraq."
While Chavez celebrated the deal with the Spanish defense minister, he refused entry to a bipartisan U.S. congressional delegation that had been cleared to visit Venezuela. In an act orchestrated to humiliate Congress, Chavez forced the lawmakers (led by 81-year-old House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill.) to sit in their plane for two hours without being allowed to disembark. Chavez then ordered the congressmen expelled from the country.
Meanwhile, Chavez - to his credit - has taken exception to CASA's and Spain's assurances to Washington that Chavez would use the aircraft exclusively within Venezuela and for peaceful purposes.
CASA and its socialist patrons in Madrid have played a double game, taking part in Chavez's anti-U.S. propaganda while lobbying Congress as valued members of the NATO security network.
Now, CASA is competing for its biggest contracts ever: more planes for the Coast Guard's Deepwater program and the new Army-Air Force Joint Cargo Aircraft, worth $3 billion to $4 billion in the short term, and as much as $30 billion over the decade ahead. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said recently, "national security cannot take a back seat to world trade." He's right. Congress should deny contracts to foreign companies that undermine U.S. national-security interests. Making an example out of the CASA aircraft deal would be an excellent place to start.
The U.S. arms embargo won't mean much if Washington continues to share military suppliers with the Venezuelan regime. Our diplomacy with Spain failed, but we needn't enrich the eurosocialists as they stab us in the back. They have chosen whose side they're on. Let them pay the price.