WASHINGTON -- It's been a tough week for democracy and American diplomacy. In Pakistan, President Pervez Musharraf pulled a coup against himself, and U.S. diplomats apparently were stunned. In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez pulled a coup against his countrymen, and U.S. diplomats once again, well were stunned. The difference in political attention and media coverage accorded these two affairs has been -- for lack of a better word -- stunning.
Print and broadcast coverage of events nearly half the world away in Pakistan has been ubiquitous since Musharraf declared a "state of emergency" and fired his self-appointed Supreme Court last Saturday. Photos and footage of protesting, out-of-work, Pakistani lawyers being dragged away in handcuffs by police in Islamabad have produced breathless coverage from correspondents who also freely reported that there is now no freedom of the press in Pakistan.
These images were apparently enough to give liberals in the U.S. Congress post-traumatic stress disorder, causing a number of members to muse about cutting off economic, military and intelligence assistance -- and of course, to blame George W. Bush. On Wednesday, while President Bush was giving French President Nicolas Sarkozy a guided tour of Mount Vernon, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte was on Capitol Hill begging the solons not to pull the plug on Pakistan and abandon an indispensable ally in the "war on terror."
Meanwhile, the potentates of the press and the powerful on the Potomac have all but ignored the coup in Caracas, just 1,400 miles south of Miami. Last week, Venezuela's rubber-stamp legislature approved 69 constitutional changes drafted by their party boss, Hugo Chavez. If affirmed by referendum on Dec. 2, the amendments would dramatically expand the powers of Venezuela's chief executive, permit the government to seize private property without court approval, virtually eliminate civil liberties and allow Chavez to serve -- like Kim Jong Il in North Korea -- as president for life. To make this deal attractive to the people, the Venezuelan workday officially would be shortened to six hours.
On Wednesday this week, while Presidents Bush and Sarkozy toured George Washington's gardens and Congress mulled the means of tightening the screws on Pakistan, more than 80,000 people took to the streets of Caracas to protest the Chavez coup. When students gathered on the campus of Central University and refused to disperse as ordered by police, the cops and National Guard troops pulled back allowing goons from Chavez's United Socialist Party, many wearing ski masks, to open fire on the student gathering.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.
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