CH?VEZ WINS….It appears that Venezuelan President Hugo Ch?vez has beaten back the attempt to recall him ? thus proving that he’s a more effective politician than Gray Davis. The vote was 58%-42% and the Carter Center has validated it as fair.

I don’t have much to say about this. Both Ch?vez and his opposition are corrupt enough that it’s hard to pick sides on a substantive basis, but as a side note it’s worth pointing out that Venezuela is a pretty good case study in the essential dilemma at the heart of neoconservatism: the tension between democracy promotion on the one hand and U.S. power and influence on the other.

Although neither Ch?vez nor his opponents will ever be poster boys for human rights and parliamentary procedure, Ch?vez has proven himself an unusually effective demagogue who’s particularly hostile toward both the United States and our regional interests. At the same time, he was elected in both 1998 and 2000 and he did win yesterday’s recall vote.

So when the Venezuelan public continually demonstrates its support for someone who despises the United States, which is more important? Democracy or American interests? Judging by their rhetoric during the 2002 coup attempt against Ch?vez, which ranged from awkward silence to outright approval, the neocons think U.S. interests are more important.

It’s one thing to denounce Ch?vez’s methods, which are indeed incendiary and worrisomely authoritarian, but it’s quite another to approve of a military coup as a way of removing him from office, and this is one reason that I’m less than convinced that the neocon devotion to democracy promotion is genuine. Everybody says they’re in favor of democracy, but it only means something if you support it even when the winner is someone you loathe. If neocons weren’t willing to denounce a military coup in Venezuela two years ago, what are the odds that they’ll continue sticking up for democracy in Iraq if the majority there turns out to be hostile to the U.S. ? as is likely to be the case? Pretty slim, I’d say.

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