Misplaced Hope Is Not a Strategy
The Venezuelan military is not on board with the effort to remove Maduro:
The leader of Venezuela’s armed forces declared loyalty to President Nicolás Maduro on Thursday and said the opposition’s effort to replace him with a transitional government amounted to an attempted coup.
The pronouncement by the defense minister, Vladimir Padrino López, came a day after an opposition lawmaker proclaimed himself the country’s rightful leader during nationwide antigovernment protests and pleaded with the armed forces to abandon Mr. Maduro.
If the Venezuelan military won’t accept Guaido as interim president, but instead sees him as a coup plotter, that bodes ill for any chance of a peaceful political transition. Maduro has every incentive to hang on to power, and as long as the military is behind him he has the ability to remain the de facto leader for quite some time. That creates a real danger of a civil war breaking out between the supporters of rival claimants to the presidency, and unless there are major defections to the opposition within the military Maduro and his allies will have the upper hand. The losers in all of this will be the civilian population that has already been suffering from years of economic mismanagement, corruption, and humanitarian crisis. The U.S. and the other governments that have already recognized Guaido as the interim president have not helped matters, and now that they have declared for one side they have rendered themselves useless as mediators. At the very least, these governments should do nothing that might further escalate the crisis. The danger of offering recognition to one side in a dispute like this is that there will then be pressure to back up that recognition with some kind of assistance, and that ends up pulling the U.S. in deeper.
The administration apparently rushed into offering Guaido recognition without thinking through any of the possible consequences of doing so:
Roberta Jacobson, a former assistant secretary of state who oversaw Latin America policy in the Obama administration, called the impasse over the diplomatic rupture untenable.
“I don’t think the administration has thought through all of the consequences of taking action as quickly as it did in recognizing Guaidó,” she said.
If they had, they wouldn’t have put U.S. diplomats in the country at risk by picking a fight with the host government. This is typical of this administration’s recklessness, and it is consistent with the poor judgment of the Venezuela hawks, including Marco Rubio, that pushed for this decision. They should have known that it would not be so easy to remove an entrenched leader and his loyalists, but unfortunately it seems they were simply hoping otherwise:
The military’s pledge of support for Mr. Maduro raised the stakes of a standoff that American officials had hoped would be resolved quickly.
It seems that none of the governments backing Guaido nor the opposition had any concrete plans for gaining the support of the military. Everyone has just been hoping that it will all work out somehow:
Diplomats who back Mr. Guaidó hoped that key members of the armed forces would switch sides following an outpouring of support for Mr. Guaidó on the streets of Venezuela on Wednesday, and pledges of support by several nations in Latin America.
Today’s announcement shows that these hopes were misplaced, and it underscores how irresponsible it was to take sides in an internal dispute.