A dictator dies. He’s persecuted Jews, denied basic civil liberties and acted as a banker for the Iranian regime. What does the president say? “Sic semper tyrannis. After the welcome news of Hugo Chavez’s death, I hope that the oppressed people of Venezuela will be able to live in freedom, not under miserable tyranny. I look forward to working in the House to promote a free, democratic, and pro-American government in Venezuela.”

No, no that’s from a freshman congressman, Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.)

Our president actually says something so meaningless it is impossible to decipher whether he thought Chavez was a friend or foe: “At this challenging time of President Hugo Chavez’s passing, the United States reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government. As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history, the United States remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law, and respect for human rights.”

A joke? No, that is all he could or would muster on the demise of one of the most noxious figures in the hemisphere who was infamous for his support for Iran and other rogue regimes and domestic repression. President Obama never bothered to mention Chavez’s deplorable record of trying to meddle in and destabilize democratic governments. And then there was his support for terrorist groups. But if you didn’t know better (and perhaps you do), you’d think Obama was indifferent on the domestic and international misdeeds of the tyrant.

Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, had a more appropriate response on Twitter: “Good riddance to this dictator.” In a more formal written statement he said:

“Hugo Chavez was a tyrant who forced the people of Venezuela to live in fear. His death dents the alliance of anti-U.S. leftist leaders in South America. Good riddance to this dictator.
Venezuela once had a strong democratic tradition and was close to the United States. Chavez’s death sets the stage for fresh elections. While not guaranteed, closer U.S. relations with his key country in our Hemisphere are now possible.”

The president,  in his embarrassing and mealy-mouthed statement, offered no such condemnation of Chavez’s past behavior. Obama thereby displayed a number of his greatest failings. He is an irresolute defender of the oppressed. He is too afraid of giving offense to vile regimes and calling out gross abrogation of human rights. He thereby demoralizes democracy advocates and human rights dissidents. He fails to appreciate that the way in which we interact with Iran’s allies (e.g. Syria, Venezuela) affects their perception of our resolve.

At his excuse-ridden news conference last Friday, the president declared, “I’m not a dictator.” Unfortunately, he seems unwilling to admit that Chavez was one. And in failing to do so, he highlights the moral vacuum he created where the world’s only superpower used to exert moral (as well as economic, diplomatic and military) leadership.