Despite his lunatic anti-American rant last week, El Loco is in the running for a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
Sure, with all his blustering and bloviating, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez exposed himself not as a great, global statesman and merciful humanitarian (as he'd like to be seen), but as a disruptive, dangerous drama queen.
Fortunately, there's a chance that the unmasking of the real Chavez may have set the stage for scuttling Venezuela's chances of sitting on the Security Council come 2007.
By Oct. 16, Latin American and Caribbean nations must vote, by secret ballot, for the region's next representative on the Security Council (replacing Argentina, whose term expires at year's end). The 10 non-permanent members each serve two-year terms, (with five new ones each year), joining the five permanent members for a 15-seat council.
Once the various regional blocks have their nominees, the 192-member U.N. General Assembly must approve the candidates in another secret ballot by a two-thirds vote.
As it stands now, Venezuela (which has held the seat several times in the past) and U.N. founding member Guatemala (which has never been on the council) are the top contenders for the region's chair.
Washington and a number of its allies, such as Colombia and the Central American nations, are supporting tiny Guatemala, but the Caribbean and big powers like Argentina, Brazil and Chile and are leaning toward oil-rich Venezuela.
Chavez has worked tirelessly to gain support, using cut-throat energy politics and billions in petro-dollars to win - or coerce - the hearts and minds of other regional players. For instance, Venezuela bailed Argentina out from its financial crisis with the IMF.
Depending on whether Chavez approves of a neighbor's politics, Caracas also spreads its vast oil wealth to energy-poor Caribbean nations - or withholds it.
To bolster his chances in the General Assembly vote, Chavez recently circled the globe on a diplomatic charm offensive, drumming up support from dictators and despots from Iran and Syria to Belarus and Vietnam.
No doubt one of Caracas' motivations for buying $3 billion in Russian weapons (including two dozen advanced fighters, more than 50 helicopters and 100,000 assault rifles) was to sew up Moscow's support. And in energy-crazed Beijing, now the world's No. 2 energy consumer, Chavez pledged to shift oil/gas exports to China from other markets - a veiled reference to his northern nemesis, the United States.
But while Caracas seemed like a shoo-in for the Latin American-Caribbean seat, its candidacy just might be in jeopardy due to el presidente's over-the-top buffoonery in New York last week.
Let's hope so. Nabbing a Security Council seat would only embolden Chavez - who's clearly trying to lead a global coalition to confront the United States.
And the council would be further debilitated in dealing with rogue regimes. For instance, Chavez is also chummy with the U.N.'s other bad boy, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The last thing we need is a "loose cannon" like Venezuela throwing its vote behind Iran's nuclear-weapons program on the Security Council.
North Korea, Syria, Sudan, Cuba, Hamas, Hezbollah, and other unsavory, anti-American types are surely to get a pass with Caracas, too.
Chavez's regional supporters should really think twice about voting Venezuela into their U.N. seat - for the reasons above, but also for the region's own good. Chavez's regional agenda - a troubling military buildup, brazen political meddling in other Latin nation's elections and even promoting revolution - is bad news for everybody.
Fortunately, the balloting at both the regional-level and at the General Assembly is secret. So leaders whose private doubts about Chavez were confirmed last week can do the right thing without paying a penalty. (He'd know some "friends" betrayed him - but not which ones.)
If the United Nations is to play a role in the critical international-security issues at stake over the next two years, it had best deny Chavez's bid for a bully pulpit on the world stage.
Peter Brookes, a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation, is the author of "A Devil's Triangle: Terrorism, WMD and Rogue States."
First appeared in The New York Post