I have said over and over that President Bush's biggest foreign policy error was ever trusting Vladimir Putin. He allowed that tyrant his trust. He gave him several powerful photo ops. Putin repaid Bush's trust by turning a budding democracy into a near totalitarian state. When this phot op was created for Bashar Assad.
Within weeks, Assad turned up the heat and he began to crack down on his critics throwing significant numbers of political opponents in jail in a way that he hadn't before this photo was taken. The legitimacy that this photo and the meeting created gave him the leverage he needed to crack down on his opponents in a way he wasn't before the meeting.
Now, we have another photo op that will strengthen our enemies, weaken our friends, and it will likely lead to a crackdown on dissidents of an oppressive regime.
This embrace will give Hugo Chavez a legitimacy that he desperately needs. That legitimacy gives him more leverage in the region. There is a power struggle in South America between the faction lead by Chavez and other socialists in coutries like Bolivia and budding democracies lead by our allies in Colombia.
Such an embrace also sends the signal that you need not reform or end tyranny to be legitimized by America. Totalitarians all over the world are rejoicing because America just said with this handshake that they don't need to change and they will be recognized as equals by America just the same. Stay tuned, we will likely give the same kind of treatment to Mr. Castro. After the bow to the King of Saud, this continues a symbolism of respect to despots and tyrants all over the world. You can bet that this photo will be used by anti America media all over the world to legitimize this tyrant.
In geopolitics, symbolism is awfully important and this sends the worst kind of symbol.