Worrying about Iran…in South America

I had missed news of Secretary Gates’s recent trip to South America. Like the Gates memo that is the subject of the page-one New York Times story this morning, Iran seems to have been one of the subjects of Secretary Gates’s concern. Investor’s Business Daily covers the trip in a good editorial:

Something’s wrong when a president’s lieutenants agitate against his own policies. But Defense Secretary Gates’ call for free trade with Colombia arose from a true national security need. So where’s the president?
Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited Latin America and the Caribbean last week, making stops to shore up allies Colombia, Peru and Barbados, on the heels of the signing of the first major U.S. defense pact with Brazil in 30 years.
He’s doing his job, and not a moment too soon, given the den of dragons the region has become. Colombia’s FARC terrorists have now made common cause with Mexico’s drug traffickers, whose violence is spilling over the U.S. border.
Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez has allied with Iran and Russia, touting nuclear cooperation with both. Chavez also is acquiring as much as $9.5 billion in Russian arms — bad news, given his history of supplying terrorists and threatening neighbors.
His ally, Bolivia, is setting up a de facto Russian air force base to check U.S. allies in Peru and Chile. And his other ally, Ecuador, is making a name for itself as a money laundry for pariahs like Iran.
So it says something that the one issue Gates came out strongly for was passage of the U.S.-Colombia free trade pact. “I would hope that we would be in a position to make a renewed effort to get ratification of the free-trade agreement. It’s a good deal for Colombia. It’s also a very good deal for the U.S.,” said the defense chief.
The reasons are easy to understand. A stable, prosperous Colombia will serve as a beacon for others to imitate and contrast sharply with Chavez’s failed economic model. It also will send a message to the region that the U.S. can be trusted as an ally.
The irony is that Gate’s plea addresses not just Hugo Chavez, but also the failures of President Obama and congressional Democrats.
The president claims he wants free trade with Colombia, but has done nothing to rouse votes on Capitol Hill or to prod House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who personally iced the pact in 2008.
Mire[d] in domestic politics, Congress remains in thrall to union cash, with Pelosi unwilling to move to a vote until Big Labor gives the nod, something the AFL-CIO says it will never do.
Even so, Obama’s Cabinet officials are pushing forward.
Colombia’s presidential palace told IBD that U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk called President Uribe’s office Thursday to say he’s expecting action soon. That’s welcome news.
It’ll be more than a bit strange if Obama’s own Cabinet pleads for free trade with Colombia while Obama and Congress’ Democrats continue to throw up obstacles. But that’s how it looks.

The IBD editorial adds an interesting context to the Times story on Gates’s Iran memo.