OPINION: US threats against Venezuela play into Maduro’s hands

Venezuela is currently locked in a stand-off between two proclaimed leaders, President Nicolas Maduro and parliamentary leader, Juan Guaido. President Trump recently asserted that a U.S. military invasion of Venezuela is on the table, a threat bolstered by hawkish National Security Advisor John Bolton.

The thinking likely is that even the threat of action may intimidate Maduro into stepping down or make the national army think twice about continuing to support him.  Such a bold maneuver, however, would bolster Maduro’s political position.

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Guaido has the backing of the U.S., Canada, EU and Brazil, while Nicolas Maduro is supported by Russia, China, Cuba and Turkey (Photo via BBC)

The nationalist card is by far the most advantageous political strategy for this morally-bankrupt, fake socialist dictator to pursue. A U.S. invasion would allow Maduro to wrap himself in the flag, making the narrative about Venezuela resisting foreign aggressors as opposed to his uphill struggle against a domestic opposition.

In a region with a toxic legacy of American interventionism, including the frequent overthrow of democratically elected governments, this is relevant. Trump’s last top security adviser, General H.R. McMaster reportedly tried to warn him that an actual invasion would be an unmitigated disaster. Trump would’ve done well to listen, for a change.

It’s embattled, but the regime isn’t toothless 

The overwhelming majority of military brass stand with the Maduro regime, armed and trained pro-government militia are about 500,000 strong, and it’s estimated that one-fifth of the population still fervently support the current regime.

All of this means that a quick walk-over is unlikely. Even if a significant chunk of the military were to break off and support self-proclaimed interim president, Juan Guaido, a quick and bloodless “Velvet Revolution,” style coup — with Nicolas Maduro going off quietly into the night — would be unlikely.

Such a situation would be more reminiscent of Syria in 2011 than Serbia in 2000. Another uprising, in 2011 the Syrian Army split over support for leader Bashar al Assad. Uprisings that fail to succeed swiftly often devolve into protracted civil wars.

Defectors from the Syrian army wave the revolutionary flag (Photo by STR/AP)

What’s worse, Trump’s proposed invasion would make mincemeat of the U.N. charter. One country cannot just invade another because they don’t like their government — they’re not supposed to anyway.

The concept of national sovereignty is essential to workable international law. It doesn’t take an over-active imagination, particularly in the wake of Iraq or Libya, to envision what might go wrong.

A larger refugee crisis, massive casualties, a nervous Cuba militarily turning to Russia and China, decades of civil war, or maybe even more brazen Russian and Chinese aggression within their perceived spheres of influence. None of this can be taken off the table. It feels like we’ve seen the Middle Eastern version of this film before.

What is happening in Venezuela is tragic, but “socialism” isn’t to blame. An oil industry that was nationalized 40 years ago and social programs that cut poverty for a decade-and-a-half didn’t cause this crisis, but rather age-old over-reliance on oil revenue (“Dutch Disease”), short-sighted fiscal policies (price controls and currency inflation), overall mismanagement, and the leadership of an insecure dictator who lacks the charisma of his predecessor and is clearly in over his head.

The late Hugo Chavez, despite well-deserved criticisms, did have electoral legitimacy; Nicolas Maduro does not.

The international community needs to stand with the Venezuelan people in proactive and productive ways, but America’s president should not be allowed to use this as a distraction from his domestic woes.

 

[Photo courtesy Cristian Hernandez/EPA via UPI)

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