Roger Noriega proposes that the U.S. encourage Guaido to trigger a civil war in Venezuela:
Guaidó should call upon citizen-soldiers to defend themselves, and he should give them the means to do so. This includes engaging the armed forces, most of whose members don’t support Maduro. But Guaidó should stop trying to coax Maduro’s commanders to oust him; narco-generals are the last people interested in doing the right thing.
Instead, he should seek out honest officers, beginning with respected retired generals who will reach out personally to captains, majors and lieutenants with good reputations to recruit a corps of new leaders, who, in turn, will command the armed forces and citizen-soldiers to depose the tyrant and save lives.
Militarizing the crisis in Venezuela would compound every problem Venezuela has today and alleviate none of the population’s suffering. The conceit that encouraging people to take up arms against a superior, better-armed force will “save lives” is extremely dangerous and irresponsible, but it is what we have come to expect from hawks every time. Assuming that Guaido gets volunteers to fight the military, the fighting will very likely be lopsidedly against them. Urging Venezuelans to take up arms against their government puts the U.S. on the hook to come to their aid if they start losing, and then it won’t just be “the Venezuelan people who will bear the burden and pay the price.” Meanwhile, the plight of the civilian population would get dramatically worse as their cities and towns are turned into battlefields.
No hare-brained scheme for starting a ruinous war would be complete without finding some way to drag the U.S. into the middle of it:
Americans can help.
Venezuela’s constitution explicitly allows foreign military missions. That provision would grant legal legitimacy to a multinational force of Venezuelan citizen-soldiers and foreign troops to help keep the peace. Without being drawn into a prolonged campaign, US forces could be deployed to areas liberated by Venezuelans, to detain regime leaders who have been indicted in US courts.
There is little chance that U.S. troops sent to Venezuela wouldn’t be drawn into a prolonged campaign. Noriega talks about this as if it were simply a matter of not wanting to be drawn in, but there are bound to be insurgents fighting against any American military presence as soon as they arrive. Like every interventionist before him, Noriega is trying to make it seem as if the U.S. won’t have to risk very much, but the reality will always be harder and messier than hawks will ever admit. Minimizing the difficulty and cost of military interventions sets U.S. forces up for failure because policymakers fail to anticipate the many ways that things can go wrong. Ben Denison addressed this in his January article on the potential pitfalls of intervention in Venezuela:
Even dedicated country experts have difficulty understanding local conditions in foreign territories or foreseeing how a nation’s citizens will respond to foreign intervention. This uncertainty can lead policymakers in Washington to make optimistic assumptions of what a U.S. intervention could achieve, leading to optimistic assumption about the effectiveness of a quick intervention.
Then when things go wrong, the default response from our political leaders is to commit even more forces to the debacle in a vain effort to salvage something from a mission that should never have happened.
We are likely to start hearing a steady drumbeat for military action in Venezuela. Unfortunately, Noriega’s op-ed is not going to be the last terrible, ill-conceived demand that the U.S. “do something” to hasten Maduro’s downfall, and this administration has shown itself to be unusually susceptible to the bad ideas of Venezuela hawks.