f_0016623_14365 - Populism and Foreign Policy in Venezuela...

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The Whitehead Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations Populism and Foreign Policy in Venezuela and Iran by Michael Dodson and Manochehr Dorraj T he remarkable ascendance of Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez, has generated new interest in Latin America’s recurrent populism. Like the charismatic populists that preceded him, Chávez rose to power rapidly and became a symbol of deepening social polarization. 1 He is seen as a pivotal figure in promoting a sharp leftward shift in Latin American politics 2 and has been criticized for his authoritarian tendencies. 3 In the words of Jorge Castañeda, “Chavismo” is the “wrong left” for Latin America. 4 Hugo Chávez has become a much discussed leader for all these reasons, but he is perhaps most notorious for his aggressive foreign policy and for the strongly confrontational posture he has adopted toward the United States. 5 Chávez has pursued high profile efforts to check US influence in Latin America, assert his own leadership in the region, and demonstrate that developing countries can act more independently of Washington’s wishes. 6 In a similar vein, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a virtual political unknown internationally prior to his election as president of Iran in 2005. Ever since then, Ahmadinejad’s attempt to go back to the populist policies of the Islamic Revolution’s early days as well as his confrontational political style, authoritarianism, and incendiary remarks against the United States and Israel have also rendered him a polarizing and controversial figure 7 His administration has been very assertive in promoting a pan-Islamic agenda and in trying to strengthen Iran’s regional influence, 8 much as Chávez has tried to exert his leadership in Latin America. 9 As a result, Chávez and Ahmadinejad have dominated Western media coverage as emerging leaders of the developing world, who are willing to challenge an American- led regional and global order. The populist rhetoric and ideals espoused by Chávez and Ahmadinejad are strongly shaped by the current international context of economic globalization. Countries like Venezuela and Iran cannot hope to pursue economic development by shielding their producers from international trade and competition. Nevertheless, leaders and the mass public in both countries share a strong perception that Michael Dodson and Manochehr Dorraj are professors of political science at Texas Christian University. 71
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The Whitehead Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations foreigners seek to exert control over their national economies. Hence, Chávez and Ahmadinejad seek to build trade alliances that bypass the hegemonic power of the US. At the same time, their public attacks on the US and its unfair economic strategies play well to a nationalist sentiment that is widespread and felt with special intensity by their respective political bases. Clearly, Venezuela and Iran are located in different regions of the developing
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f_0016623_14365 - Populism and Foreign Policy in Venezuela...

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