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Venezuela and Our Stupid Obsession with U.S. ‘Leadership’

Another unwelcome side-effect of believing that the U.S. has the responsibility to “police” the world is a tendency to think that other countries’ problems stem from a lack of “American leadership.” Jackson Diehl offers [1] the latest example of this error:

Still, Venezuela also tells a story of the eclipse of American leadership. For at least the past 100 years, the United States’ conception of its international mission included a determination not to allow another state in the Western hemisphere to fail.

Considering that the U.S. has toppled governments in invasions, supported coups, or fueled civil wars in many of these countries, that is a questionable interpretation of what U.S. policy in our hemisphere has been for the past century. Regardless, Venezuela’s awful descent into ruin under Chavez and Maduro is not something that could have realistically been averted with more U.S. “leadership.” When the U.S. signaled support [2] for the attempted coup [3] against Chavez in 2002, it made a costly error that has haunted U.S. policy towards Venezuela ever since.

It is not accurate to say that the U.S. has consistently tried to “avoid the faintest hint of meddling” in Venezuela since the Clinton administration. It’s true that the U.S. hasn’t used the heavy-handed coercive measures that many hawks have been demanding for years, but that hasn’t stopped the government from making serious blunders, as the Obama administration did when it declared [4] Venezuela an “extraordinary threat” to national security in order to impose targeted sanctions on some members of their government. That blunder gave Maudro a much-needed boost [5] at the time, and there is every reason to suppose that more aggressive meddling would have had a similarly counterproductive effect. Let’s be clear that this is what a demand for more “leadership” on Venezuela means in practice: more interference and more efforts to “shape” their politics according to our design.

Diehl complains that there were “no serious economic sanctions,” as if imposing additional economic burdens on the population would have improved the conditions inside the country. If the U.S. had imposed “serious economic sanctions,” it would have harmed the civilian population while providing the regime with an easy excuse for the country’s economic woes. Sanctions would have deepened the population’s suffering and given Venezuela’s government an alibi for it. If that is what paying attention to Venezuela entails, it is better if Washington “looks away.”

The U.S. usually can’t remedy the internal political problems of other countries, and when it tries it makes a mess of things more often than not. The U.S. should be willing to help its neighbors in our hemisphere when we can be reasonably sure that our help is wanted and constructive, but most of the time it is neither of those things. If we haven’t learned that after the last century of harmful meddling, I don’t know when we will.

11 Comments (Open | Close)

11 Comments To "Venezuela and Our Stupid Obsession with U.S. ‘Leadership’"

#1 Comment By collin On April 17, 2017 @ 2:13 pm

Oh Brother!!! Literally, growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, I remember the nightly news every single night had stories of the latest coup, revolution or dictator in South and Latin American nation. (OK I exaggerating every night here.) But that was the reality of the era with both the US and Soviet blundering in these nations with endless wars, weapons, etc. The ending of the Cold War was the greatest thing that happened to South America. (Not that all nations doing great but it is better than 1970, 1975 or even 1985.)

And at this moment why we do want to interfere with Valenzuela. Let the current government die a natural death and look to improve relations with Valenzuela.

#2 Comment By Stacie Powers On April 17, 2017 @ 5:08 pm

Can we say it is ignorant to think that we have all the power needed to supersede anything in our way when it comes to places such as Venezuela?


#3 Comment By zone defense On April 17, 2017 @ 6:05 pm

Jackson Diehl advocated for the invasion of Iraq, and for interventions in Libya, Syria, and Yemen.

’nuff said. Utterly discredited, a cheerleader for some of the worst foreign policy f***-ups in our history. And having wrecked those countries, he’s now fretting about the possibility of a “failed state” in Venezuela! He cracks me up.

#4 Comment By Plain English On April 17, 2017 @ 6:46 pm

I agree with “zone defense”. Why do we still find drivel like this in the national media by people who should have been fired for basic intellectual and moral incompetence as part of a national accounting after the Iraq debacle?

It’s the foreign policy equivalent of bailing out Wall Street after the financial collapse. We let incompetents and malefactors keep their jobs, there were no real consequences, and now they’re trying to do it all over again.

#5 Comment By catbird On April 17, 2017 @ 9:08 pm

I agree 100% with the non-interventionist position on Venezuela, but it’s important not to defend that position with illusions: “Let the current government die a natural death and look to improve relations with Valenzuela.” All indications are the the Maduro gov’t, like the Erdogan gov’t has the determination and the support from a committed block of supporters to defy all opposition and successfully stay in power indefinitely.

#6 Comment By Gregory On April 17, 2017 @ 9:29 pm

U.S. leadership did a wonderful job in El Salvador in the 1980s. Why wouldn’t it do a wonderful job this time around.

#7 Comment By Gregory On April 17, 2017 @ 9:29 pm

Shoot, that last comment was supposed to have a question mark and a /sarcasm at the end. Sorry.

#8 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On April 17, 2017 @ 10:59 pm

The guy’s an über-hawk, and anything but subtle about it.

#9 Comment By EliteCommInc.. On April 18, 2017 @ 9:36 am

“(OK I exaggerating every night here.)”

Not by much.

But the US has been a force in the southern hemisphere since we became a country. Our military routinely visited to region to quell riots and instability almost as routine.

We didn’t need a cold war. And we are going to pay the price as we import them into the country as consequence.

I agree with he comments on accountability.

#10 Comment By Terry Benoit On April 18, 2017 @ 6:38 pm

I love this website. Sorry folks – i’m sort of liberal – i think women can do whatever they want with their bodies and that the richest country in the world should be able to get an non-embarrassing healthcare system. On the other hand, i hate identity politics, can’t see any reason for hate crime legislation, and am an admirer of private management of public spaces (like NYC’s Bryant Park, for example.) Anyhoo, there is not a thing i can really disagree with in this piece. I’m not an isolationist – i think soft power can do amazing things – but i truly admire AC’s integrity in realizing the limits of what “we” can do out there in the world.

#11 Comment By EliteCommInc. On April 18, 2017 @ 7:57 pm

Laughing a tad.

Ok. I will bite.

“I love this website. Sorry folks – i’m sort of liberal – i think women can do whatever they want with their bodies and that the richest country in the world should be able to get an non-embarrassing healthcare system.”

A woman’s body like other countries is hers to do with as she pleases (in general). Aside from self mutilation and suicide (though even here – I tend to lean on the side of individual choice with some ground rules) I have no issues.

But as with another country, genocide of another human being is unacceptable. And a child residing in a woman’s womb is entitled to protection, even from her, if necessary. And there we have examples of failure in which we turned blind eye to murder on mass scale, and I don’t mean four or ten people losing their lives or disappearing.

I am all for ending US complicity in the murder of innocents in and out of the womb and the wars that would extend such ethos.