Facing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee a few days ago, Samantha Power, President Obama's nominee for ambassador to the United Nations, surely didn't expect to stir up the proverbial hornet's nest.
Power told the committee that as America's U.N. envoy, she believed in "contesting" what she described as a "crackdown on civil society being carried out in countries like Cuba, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela."
That was truthful, if not exactly an exercise in delicate diplomacy, and it enraged Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro, the hand-picked successor of the late Hugo Chavez, the flamboyantly anti-American socialist.
"Power says she'll fight repression in Venezuela? What repression? There is repression in the United States, where they kill African-Americans with impunity, and where they hunt the youngster Edward Snowden just for telling the truth," declared Maduro with Chavez-like embellishment.
He demanded an apology.
Such nonsense. The Trayvon Martin case was decided in a court of law. Snowden is being pursued for revealing classified material that could jeopardize the country's security.
Maduro, a former bus driver who was elected in April after Chavez succumbed to cancer, had called for improved relations with Washington. In June his foreign minister, Elias Jaua, met Secretary of State John Kerry, who described their meeting as the "beginning of a good, respectful relationship."
Jaua announced that his government had sent a letter of protest to the American embassy in Caracas. In it, he said, he asked if there is still "willingness" in Washington to improve relations. He bragged of Venezuela's "solid system of constitutional guarantees" and blasted the United States' "repressive practices."
Maduro earlier angered Washington by offering asylum to Snowden, the fugitive intelligence contractor who has been stranded in a Moscow airport while seeking a home where he'd avoid prosecution by the United States. All but two - Venezuela and Nicaragua - rejected his request.
He decided to offer asylum to Snowden, Maduro explained, "to protect this young man from the persecution unleashed by the world's most powerful empire."
All this is reminiscent of Chavez's hyperbole.
The United States needn't overreact to Maduro's bravado, but it needn't apologize for Power's accurate characterization of Venezuela.
We suspect all this will fade away. Despite the ill will generated by Chavez, the United States remains a critical trading partner for Venezuela. And the United States is a major importer of Venezuela's major export, oil.
Maduro's tough talk probably is no more than that. In any event, such threats shouldn't keep American diplomats from calling out oppressive regimes, however thin-skinned they may be.