What Defeat? Rice Finesses Win-Win at OAS

By Al Kamen
Monday, May 16, 2005

So let's see. The United States first backed former Salvadoran president Francisco Flores to be the new secretary general of the Organization of American States. Venezuela's left-wing demagogue Hugo Chavez and Cuban dictator Fidel Castro backed Chilean socialist and former interior minister Jose Miguel Insulza .

The Flores move went nowhere, so Washington then backed Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez . The lefties kept pushing Insulza. In a stunning vote last month, the 34-nation OAS met and deadlocked 17 to 17.

The Chileans accused Washington of strong-arming tiny Caribbean countries to switch sides to Derbez (something, of course, the United States would never, ever do). A senior Chilean official growled to a U.S. diplomat that the United States was "making a big mistake." Even though it was only a tie, a Venezuelan exulted, saying that "until now, the United States imposed its candidates."

And there was chatter among the delegates that a couple of votes -- maybe Paraguay and Panama -- were going to switch to Insulza, handing the United States a major diplomatic embarrassment.

Then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stepped in, did some nifty diplomacy and worked out a fine deal. If Insulza would take some indirect shots at Chavez and talk up democracy in Cuba, why then the United States would back him. Bingo! A unanimous vote for Insulza.

Now someone might look at this and say it appeared as though all this was pretty much a defeat for U.S. efforts. The folks they supported lost. The guy they opposed won.

Ah, but that would be, as Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America Roger Noriega explained in an April 30 e-mail to State Department officials, absolutely, completely, wrong.

"No matter how hard the NY Times, Chavez, and Castro try to say otherwise, Rice's brokering of a consensus in favor of Jose Miguel Insulza is a victory for the US," Noriega wrote.

The Insulza gambit was nothing short of brilliant. "When I told Paco [Francisco] Flores of our plan," Noriega said, "he said, 'Wow. That's great.' " (Paco apparently is easily impressed.)

So next election, if the candidate you oppose looks as though he might win, work out a way to support him, then declare victory. This is what is called a "win-win."

Safe Sex in the Capitol

He's baaaaaack! A longtime Loop favorite, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a practicing physician famed for hosting spectacular sex education slide shows for Hill interns -- featuring pastrami sandwiches and color images of sexually transmitted diseases such as genital warts and gonorrhea -- is back in business, hosting the "Revenge of the STDs" on May 26.

The well-attended events ended a couple of years back when Coburn, sticking to his term-limit pledge, left the House. But now the good times have returned, and Coburn's event will be in Room HC-5 in the Capitol. Coburn, "who has treated virtually every sexually transmitted disease," his office said, will put on his "safe sex" slide show not just for interns but for members and staff as well. We're promised "a frank, interactive discussion about the effects of STDs."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company