Venezuela is in the middle of an immense crisis that has the potential to envelop the entire region. The state is in the hands of a functional narco-terrorist clique, the economy is in complete free-fall and everyday Venezuelans are in complete misery. The United States has clear interests as the superpower of the region. We need a stable and lawful Venezuela that does not invite interference from outside the hemisphere. But we also can’t afford bombastic threats that shed more heat than light.
The administration needs to tread carefully and trust its wiser advisors.
…the country is rife with drug trafficking and even terrorist organizations like Hezbollah
The meltdown in Venezuela is a textbook case of leftist economics in action. Venezuela was sitting on some of the largest proven reserves of oil and natural gas in the world. We had a booming trade relationship totaling recently to $13.5 billion.
Starting in 2001, the Chavez government pushed a series of “reforms,” each of which crippled the Venezuelan economy, hurting the poor primarily. His land confiscation resulted in a pittance of food production. The 2002 purge of the national oil company has resulted in devastating losses as professionals were replaced with party loyalists.
Food prices have skyrocketed due to inflation. While defenders of the regime, like Great Britain’s Jeremy Corbyn, have noted the reduction in poverty under the Chavez government, it is equally important to remember that poverty rapidly decreased across the region.
The collapse has been matched by subsequent political turmoil. Enraged by the endemic poverty, cronyism and corruption, hundreds of thousands have been taking to the streets since 2014. The government has responded with violence, political detention and media censorship. Millions of Venezuelans have fled to nearby countries. To further consolidate power, the Venezuelan state held a sham election in order to keep Chavez’ successor, Nicolas Maduro in power. As per the Venezuelan constitution, the National Assembly has declared the election to be null and thus the head of the assembly, Juan Guaidó, is the interim president until a valid election can be held. To make matters worse, the country is rife with drug trafficking and even terrorist organizations like Hezbollah. Additionally, Russia has deployed forces to the country to help the Maduro regime maintain its grip on power.
A state that engages in narco-trafficking, encourages outside interference in the hemisphere and plays host to terrorist organizations is not in our interest. Neither is invasion.
America’s tactics needs to be rooted in our grand strategy. Before we endorse any specific tactic we must ask ourselves: “Is this counterproductive to our security goals?”
The federal government exists first and foremost to protect national security. A state that engages in narco-trafficking, encourages outside interference in the hemisphere and plays host to terrorist organizations is not in our interest.
Neither is invasion.
Absent an actual attack on the United States from Madurista forces, the United States does not need to militarily intervene. We do not need to use our military to confront every state who opposes our interests. For instance, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq also threatened our interests, attacked our allies and worked with terrorist organizations. Yet the American-led invasion weakened our military forces, disrupted the entire region, cost trillions, killed hundreds of thousands and bankrupted the credibility of the establishment. The president needs to remind Mike Pompeo that the secretary of state works at the pleasure of the president and not the other way around. Regime change via military intervention would be a costly mistake that would harm our national security, not further it. There are myriad reasons for this.
First, while the United States currently has the support of Latin America, there is simply no international backing for such an adventure. A military intervention would isolate us from our allies in Brazil, Colombia and the rest of the continent.
Second, it would lack Venezuelan support. The same people who cheer on this potential invasion also promised us that Iraqis would welcome American forces as liberators. There is simply no groundswell of Venezuelan support for the Marines to land in Caracas. Even if there was, it is unlikely it would survive when the cold realities of occupation and reconstruction set in. Third, it lacks American domestic support. Since Iraq, the American people have been wisely opposed to the constant drumbeat of humanitarian intervention. This lack would likely motivate Madurista forces to continue to violently oppose an American occupation given that they can likely exhaust the American homefront.
[Trump should] pursue a moderate policy that isolates the leftist regime without needlessly wasting American blood and treasure.
Fourth, it would be an immensely difficult conflict. The United States has not engaged in a serious conventional invasion of a Latin American country since 1989. A sizable enough force required to adequately invade and then occupy Venezuela would pale in comparison to our invasion of Panama. Arguably, the United States has not faced a peer power in Latin America in a multi-environment operation since 1848. Stretched thin by constant interventions and recent budget cuts, the American military is exhausted. The United States would not only have to fight 120,000 Venezuelan soldiers on their home turf, but the regime’s many private militias as well. While the United States armed forces remain the best trained and equipped on the planet, there is no reason to believe this conflict would be bloodless. The president should trust his instincts and disregard neoconservative advisers who preach the gospel of easy war.
This is not to say that the Trump administration has no options or that we need to accept Maduro. There remains a number of diplomatic and economic tools left to the president.
The United States, first and foremost, needs to continue to insist to the Russian Federation that we will not tolerate any outside armed force in the Western Hemisphere. Refusal to adhere to this should have consequences. The Trump administration is correct to suggest pairing this violation with additional sanctions.
The second step that the Trump administration has begun to pursue is to finally fully enforce sanctions against the Cuban state, which has been critical in keeping the Maduro regime on life support. Furthermore, U.S. sanctions can be, and are being, targeted for those who specifically support the Maduro regime, in order to suppress the coup against the legitimate government.
Lastly, the United States needs to remain firm in its support of interim President Juan Guaidó. Over 50 governments support the placeholder presidency as per the Venezuelan constitution. The president should disregard those who pretend it is some kind of “coup.” The United States cannot find itself against a consensus of 54 countries including nearly every Latin American nation.
The Trump administration faces a difficult situation in Venezuela.
We cannot afford to tolerate a lawless and dangerous regime. Equally the United States cannot run off into another poorly thought out misadventure. If the administration is serious about an America First policy, then it will pursue a moderate policy that isolates the leftist regime without needlessly wasting American blood and treasure.