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The Madness of Military Intervention in Venezuela

War is the ultimate human calamity. Despite the fevered hopes and utopian promises of its advocates, loosing the dogs of war almost always results in abundant death and destruction, and sometimes unimaginable slaughter, devastation, and horror. America’s last four wars, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen, should serve as sufficient proof of this fact.

At least would-be humanitarian warriors make serious moral claims, even if they usually end up killing many of those whom they promise to help. Worse are the war advocates seeking geopolitical advantage, upset that this or that government churlishly refuses to follow  Washington’s dictates.

The very worst, however, are the arguments based on cash. In the bad old days, warmongers spoke of plunder. Over time they grew more genteel, instead citing trade and commercial opportunities. Now they point to increases in GDP. Bomb, invade, occupy a country, and watch it flourish!

Venezuelan expatriate Daniel Di Martino has made just such a case.

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Last year, President Donald Trump famously asked his aides whether the U.S. should intervene militarily in Venezuela. They argued against the idea. He then asked top Latin American leaders for their opinion. They were strongly opposed.

However, wrote Di Martino, “While calls for the use of military force were dismissed among diplomats, American intervention could have economic benefits for both Venezuela and the United States.” Waging war would lower Venezuela’s “Misery Index,” unemployment rate, and poverty rate. Indeed, “the economic miracle that would follow” the country’s liberation “would be unprecedented,” Di Martino claimed. Price and currency controls would end and “oil production would surge.”

In contrast, he predicted that allowing the regime to stay in power “will surely result in millions of deaths” while the death toll from a U.S. assault would be low. He extrapolated from America’s operation in Panama to estimate just 3,500 civilian casualties. By this calculus, “intervention would bring enormous rewards for Americans and Venezuelans alike.” The president, he said, should be strong and declare: damn the advisors, full speed ahead.

It is a terrible argument.

There is no question that socialism has been a catastrophe for Venezuelans, at least those who aren’t close to power. Venezuela was once among Latin America’s wealthiest countries. Today its people starve and flee.

Because of hyper-inflation, reported The Washington Post’s Matt O’Brien [1], some $333,000 worth of bolivars six-and-a-half years ago would be worth just $1 today. Three weeks ago a cup of coffee cost two million bolivars. The regime can barely afford the hard currency necessary to pay foreigners to print more banknotes. By the end of the year, warns the International Monetary Fund, inflation could hit a million percent. The government’s original solution: knock three zeroes off the bills. But then officials decided that wasn’t enough, so off came another two zeroes. The new lower “sovereign bolivar” was just issued.

Alas, without economic reform this is merely playacting. Inflation will continue its inexorable rise. It doesn’t matter what numbers the regime puts on its currency: prices will continue to soar. New, bigger bills will have to be issued. And another three, four, or five zeroes will have to be dropped.

Virtually nothing about Venezuela’s economy works. Grocery stores shelves are empty. Hospitals lack medicine, blood, supplies, even water. The murder rate is among the world’s highest. With oil production falling to its lowest level since 1949, the Chavez-Maduro regime even “turned natural resource wealth into a curse,” notes my Cato Institute colleague Juan Carlos Hidalgo. The poor suffer the most, and today almost everyone is poor. Nearly nine in ten Venezuelans have fallen below the official poverty line.

Naturally, Venezuela’s venal, corrupt, and incompetent rulers blame “economic war” from abroad. Yet isn’t the purpose of true socialism to allow a country, especially one so rich in resources, to upstage the capitalist world and prosper without outside help?

The Chavistas, as they are known—even though current president Nicolas Maduro is a lackluster substitute for Hugo Chavez—leavened their gross economic mismanagement with ostentatious corruption and violent repression. As even many of the poor turned against the regime that claims to represent them, Maduro and his cronies rigged the electoral process to ensure their continued control.

In short, the regime deserves to go.

But does that make it unique? There are plenty of brutal dictatorships that have destroyed their economies—and killed more of their people than Venezuela has thus far. North Korea hosts a system of deadly labor camps. Eritrea is known as the African North Korea. Iran is politically repressive, religiously intolerant, geopolitically aggressive, and economically incompetent. Saudi Arabia is all of those things, too, though its oil wealth, much better managed than Venezuela’s, helps cushion its economic failure. Burma is engaged in the ethnic cleansing of its Muslim Rohingya—after spending decades terrorizing a host of other minority ethnic and religious groups seeking autonomy.

The Central Asian nations are nasty and repressive. The People’s Republic of China and Russia are geopolitically dangerous. The Middle East is full of bad regimes: Bahrain, Egypt, and Syria belong on any list. Zimbabwe is a terribly repressive economic calamity. There is a potpourri of states that regularly harm their own people and threaten others. Why shouldn’t Washington bomb, invade, and occupy them as well?

War is not just another policy tool. Its foundation is death and destruction. Military action, no matter how well-intentioned, is often indiscriminate in effect. The course of conflict is always unpredictable and often inconceivable. Seldom does a government go to war expecting to lose. The number of conflicts that turned out vastly more horrible than their architects expected is great, including the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Franco-Prussian War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Iraq II, and Yemen. The number of conflicts that turned out easier than expected? Iraq I. No doubt there are other examples, but they don’t exactly jump to mind.

Di Martino’s rosy predictions about the results of an American expeditionary force landing in Venezuela are highly suspect. Such an intervention could result in a mix of civil war and insurgency that no doubt the “good guys” would win, but the costs would be severe. Most important would be the impact on America. The primary responsibility of the U.S. government is to protect its own people, including those in uniform. They are not to be treated as gambit pawns in some global chess game. Their lives should only be imperiled when their own nation has something substantial at risk.

There also is something grotesque in attempting to justify war on the basis that fewer might—might!—be killed via military action than in its absence. That’s a matter of speculation at best and a terrible gamble at worst. Are lives to be treated as abstract numbers in an account balance? Whatever the net casualty figure, a war would mean thousands of people who would otherwise be alive would instead die. Why do U.S. policymakers get to make that decision? Who anointed America to play god with the futures of other peoples?

Moreover, an American invasion would undermine the legitimacy of any new government. It would offer Chavistas a permanent excuse, someone to blame for any and all future problems and challenges. If the process did not go well, the impact could be long-lasting. Especially in Latin America, the specter of U.S. domination, if not imperialism, casts a long shadow. Military action seen as benefiting Washington would undercut its legitimacy not just in Venezuela, but across the region.

If the security and humanitarian arguments fall short, the economic rationale is risible. How much profit per life, American or Venezuelan, justifies war? Imagine a president writing the families of dead military personnel explaining that their sacrifice was justified because it helped bump up Venezuela’s annual GDP rate. Only a well-founded concern over the survival of an economy adequate to meet America’s essential needs would be important enough to consider military action.

Finally, sending in the military for frivolous reasons creates yet another precedent for promiscuous warmongering. Washington can say little today when Russia intervenes using previous American justifications. Handing Moscow—or Beijing, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, or other aggressive states—another excuse further empowers already dangerously militaristic regimes.

War is the most horrid of human practices. It is a tragedy that it is ever necessary. There is much that is awful in the world, but as John Quincy Adams urged a couple centuries ago, America “goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.” Otherwise, he warned, “she might become the dictatress of the world” and “be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.”

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is author of Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.

27 Comments (Open | Close)

27 Comments To "The Madness of Military Intervention in Venezuela"

#1 Comment By Rick On August 22, 2018 @ 9:59 pm

By all that is holy we cannot get involved in Venezuala. We haven’t been involved — a first for us in Latin America — and we should stay out of it entirely.

Do neocons ever learn? With the blood on their hands do they not understand this yet?

#2 Comment By Kevin On August 23, 2018 @ 4:14 am

Although I’m on the left I like the American Conservative, especially for it anti war stance. But Doug Bandow says North Korea has slave labor prison camps, but so does the US which has which has five times more prisoners than China despite its smaller population, and these prisoners are being used as slaves.

‘With 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s prison population, the United States has the largest incarcerated population in the world. No other society in history has imprisoned more of its own citizens. There are half a million more prisoners in the U.S. than in China, which has five times our population. Approximately 1 in 100 adults in America were incarcerated in 2014. Out of an adult population of 245 million that year, there were 2.4 million people in prison, jail or some form of detention center.

The vast majority – 86 percent – of prisoners have been locked up for non-violent, victimless crimes, many of them drug-related.

Big Business is making big bucks off of prison labor:’

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#3 Comment By Kent On August 23, 2018 @ 6:33 am

We could just remove economic sanctions on Venezuela…

#4 Comment By Uncle Billy On August 23, 2018 @ 7:07 am

I am waiting for the neocons to tell us that attacking Venezuela would be a “cakewalk.” That oil revenue would pay for the war, thus it would not cost any money. The last thing that we should do is to invade Venezuela. It would be a mistake of historical dimensions.

#5 Comment By Dan Green On August 23, 2018 @ 9:09 am

Duh. Last war we won was WW 2. There senseless. Reality is we no longer need Venezuelan oil. Our two adversaries are China and Russia.

#6 Comment By Allen On August 23, 2018 @ 9:40 am

Invading Venezuela would turn even the most ardent Trump supporter into a hardcore Democrat. We elected him to get us OUT of wars, not into them, and we’re losing our patience.

#7 Comment By collin On August 23, 2018 @ 9:59 am

I think this would be the dumbest action by the US as Latin American dictators always get to blame the US for everything wrong in the nation. The economy is poor, you can’t afford healthcare, inflation is 1000%, it is not raining enough, your backaches are flaring up, and the restaurant put the wrong salad dressing on is all the fault of US to blame. (Historically there are some blame for Cold War activity.) However Venezuela today has no US to blame here and let the dictator fail on their own.

Also, the other benefit of no military action is Venezuela has huge Chinese debt they may to default on and let China deal with Maduro.

#8 Comment By Johann On August 23, 2018 @ 10:48 am

Expatriates many times are the worst when it comes to pushing regime change by force via the US. They want revenge at our expense.

Venezuelans need to fix Venezuela. Or not.

#9 Comment By Egypt Steve On August 23, 2018 @ 11:34 am

Re: “Invading Venezuela would turn even the most ardent Trump supporter into a hardcore Democrat.”

I wouldn’t bet the rent on that. I wouldn’t bet the rent on the opposite outcome, either, but I think I’d be willing to bet a steak dinner and some good cold bear that any war Trump starts would boost him in the polls.

#10 Comment By Egypt Steve On August 23, 2018 @ 11:34 am

Beer.

#11 Comment By b. On August 23, 2018 @ 12:07 pm

“War is the ultimate human calamity.”

I give Bandow a lot of credit for this.

“The very worst, however, are the arguments based on cash. In the bad old days, warmongers spoke of plunder. Over time they grew more genteel, instead citing trade and commercial opportunities. Now they point to increases in GDP. Bomb, invade, occupy a country, and watch it flourish!”

This is well put, but it falls short. Operation Iraqi Liberation was about loot, extraction rights, profits made from turning borrowed money into weapon and “service” revenue for Haliburton et.al. Bandow describes well the wannabe-Chalabi of Venezuela, but he – like all of TAC – still fails to connect the profits made at home to the atrocities aided, abetted and committed abroad.

Finally, I give Bandow no credit and quarter at all for not mentioning US sanctions on Venezuela running since 2014, and our continued interference for generations.

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We can decry the plight of the Venezuelan people, but given that US governments have been instrumental in bringing it about, we should dispense with the arrogance of judgement.

#12 Comment By b. On August 23, 2018 @ 12:20 pm

“There also is something grotesque in attempting to justify war on the basis that fewer might – might! – be killed via military action than in its absence.”

Indeed, this is an important point.

Here, the neoliberal con of “Responsibility To Pretend” finally joins the neoliberal con of the “Trolling Problem”, a contrived, abstract, and utterly irrelevant “choice” with a stacked deck.

In reality, that kind of moral choice is made every time a law enforcement officer decides to engage by choice, not clear necessity, in a firefight or vehicular pursuit in disregard of the danger to civilians. That moral choice is made not with a trolley and a switch, it is made with Congress standing by, aiding and abetting war, always illegal and often unconstitutional, to use a rogue executive as a convenient proxy for its on malicious designs.

“Why do U.S. policymakers get to make that decision? Who anointed America to play god with the futures of other peoples?”

That is the core of R2P and “humanitarian” intervention. We decide not to help, but we decide to punish. Maybe this is a reflection of the divinity of the Old Testament, it is certainly a rejection of the Sermon on the Mount.

‘America “goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.”‘

No need. Plenty of those at home.

#13 Comment By Lert345 On August 23, 2018 @ 1:14 pm

Venezuelans voted in these bad leaders in fairly honest elections. They need to vote them out.

#14 Comment By fabian On August 23, 2018 @ 2:31 pm

This will not happen. DC is not that crazy to burden the country with another failed state.

#15 Comment By cka2nd On August 23, 2018 @ 3:54 pm

I trust the Cato Institute and its members exactly as far as I can throw them when it comes to economic matters, at home and abroad. And that includes economic warfare conducted either by foreign actors (the US) or domestic ones (Venezuela’s capitalist elite, most of whom are probably directing the actions of their subordinates at home from luxurious self-imposed exile in Madrid or Miami).

Cato fellows have more capital with me, ahem, on matters of civil liberties, criminal justice and foreign intervention, so this piece was not totally worthless.

#16 Comment By One Guy On August 23, 2018 @ 4:40 pm

Strawman. Mr. Bandow gots to pay the bills. And apparently TAC is desperate for material.

#17 Comment By Myron Hudson On August 23, 2018 @ 5:27 pm

Let’s see… apply crippling sanctions to change a country’s behavior, observe the country failing while failing to change, consider military invasion/regime change as the next step. Right out of the DC playbook. Nothing new here.

Yes, Fabian, they are crazy enough to create another failed state. So many states. So little time.

#18 Comment By Simon B On August 24, 2018 @ 12:11 am

The Venezuelans have been preparing for US invasion by creating stay-behind guerillas and buying as much air defense as possible. The US has been securing basing rights with regional allies in preparation of any possible action. We would need about 5 carrier strike groups nearby to support a US invasion so that’s your last red flag.

Someone documented the war planning by both sides in this anti-war post.
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#19 Comment By TruthWillHurt On August 24, 2018 @ 2:37 am

Venezuela’s leaders are certainly responsible for their own economic mismanagement – but US sanctions imposed simply because the US doesn’t like the elected socialist administration are also notably responsible.

#20 Comment By Frank Carrillo On August 25, 2018 @ 12:09 am

So, How do we help The Venezuelan People in our doorsteps? Do we let the narco-trafickers continue to have a free hand? We just let the Cubans control the Oil in the Richest Oil Nation in our Front Yard? And we allow the destabilization of all the Neighboring Countries with major consequences ? Why the hell have a Foreign Policy, a Military ?

#21 Comment By Michael Kenny On August 25, 2018 @ 11:47 am

With Mr Bandow, one always has to look for the “let Putin win in Ukraine” parable. Venezuela: amphibious invasions are always a disaster and the nature of the terrain (jungle, mountain, swamp …) makes a land invasion from one of Venezuela’s neighbours almost impossible. An air war? Where would the planes be based? A carrier force is fine for occasional strikes but not for a war of indeterminate length. So the planes/drones would have to be based in a neighbouring country, most probably Colombia. But the point of an air war is to knock out the country’s military capacities, which makes sense only if the purpose is not to invade the country but to prevent it from invading another country. There’s no sign that Venezuela has either the military capacity or the intention to invade any of its neighbours. Unlike Russia (to take Mr Bandow’s own example), Venezuela isn’t “geopolitically dangerous” to the US. Thus, in so far as he limits himself to Venezuela, his argument makes sense. Russia would actually be an easier target than Venezuela, but that’s too long a discussion to go into here.

#22 Comment By Ivo Olavo Castro da Silva On August 26, 2018 @ 5:36 am

Venezuelans did try to remove bolivarian chavistas out of power with more than two-thirds of the vote. Then they could have removed Maduro out of office. But the government arrested two elected opposition politicians to prevent that. When the supreme court was going to take action the government tripled the number of judges, indicating all new members. How can a people fight such oppression? Rebelling and being shot in the streets. That is what they are doing. But with the army and police being controlled by the government there is little hope. How come a country which is one of the greatest petroleum producers is in a deep state of misery? The only explanation is deep corruption and financial help to their leftist friends in South America.
I am not arguing the US should have waged all wars. Many were grave mistakes, such as the two World Wars. But the United States cannot turn the face and ignore what is happening in the world. Until it suddenly wakes up and finds itself completely isolated, without any friends in the world. Then it will be too late. Geopolitics does not forgive. It is utterly foolish to believe that the US can freely survive alone. I would argue that it would not deserve to survive.

#23 Comment By Tomonthebeach On August 27, 2018 @ 12:55 pm

Too often, in fact typically, the US assumes that military intervention will have a positive outcome. It usually has the opposite effect. Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Korea, Vietnam…. often what replaces the depots is worse despots – and – a never ending bill to US taxpayers to keep a lid on things.

#24 Comment By Biff On August 28, 2018 @ 9:17 am

Question for Doug or anyone else who claims Venezuela is a socialist country.
By what criteria?

#25 Comment By Mark Thomason On August 28, 2018 @ 11:10 am

Of all wars, civil wars are the worst, because they kill so many innocents caught in the crossfire, and they are so very hard to stop by their very nature.

The wars the US launched all became civil wars, by way of proxy war to occupy and/or change regime.

#26 Comment By stella On September 4, 2018 @ 2:48 pm

You don’t have to wage war, just do as with Idi Amin Dada, oil 5 of the regime, Maduro, Cabello and 3 others, and thats that, they are assassins, drug traffickers, corrupt chiefs with no regards for the poor, no regards for hunger and sickness and destroyed a whole population, what war? everybody is hungry, kill these assassins and problem solved! no one can tell me the Mossad or Cia can’t do this quietly??

#27 Comment By Segey Misik On December 16, 2018 @ 6:37 am

“Washington can say little today when Russia intervenes using previous American justifications.” USA began about 30 wars after 2WW. Washington has no moral right to teach Moscow or anybody else. [5]