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The Complete Failure of the Venezuela Regime Change Policy

This Wall Street Journalreport on the Trump administration’s failed Venezuela policy is worth reading, but the Russia-centric framing of the article is strange. The article begins this way:

The Trump administration’s bid to replace Venezuela’s authoritarian leader Nicolás Maduro hit a roadblock after a meeting with Russian officials in Rome last year—and has never recovered.

U.S. envoy Elliott Abrams arrived at the Westin Excelsior hotel hoping to persuade Russia to withdraw its support for Mr. Maduro and to recognize Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader. Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov instead demanded the U.S. back down from military threats and lift the economic sanctions intended to force Mr. Maduro’s hand.

Trump’s regime change policy in Venezuela ran into other more significant roadblocks than this over the course of the last year, so it’s not clear why Russia’s refusal to cooperate is given such a prominent place in the story. If the administration genuinely expected Russia to throw its support to a U.S.-backed opposition leader and help Washington to overthrow one of their clients, they clearly haven’t been paying attention to the last 30 years of Russian foreign policy. Russia doesn’t acquiesce to U.S.-backed regime change efforts, and the one time they cooperated with the U.S. at the Security Council on a question of outside intervention (Libya in 2011) they ended up regretting it and concluded that they had been deceived. If the administration thought Russia would back Guaido, this is just another example of the absurd wishful thinking that has plagued their handling of Venezuela all along. The article’s title is “How Putin outfoxed Trump,” but it hardly requires vulpine cunning to thwart a dim-witted plan designed by Marco Rubio.

Russia has been one of Maduro’s important international supporters, but they are hardly the only ones that have been skirting sanctions to continue their trade with Venezuela. The administration’s failure here is caused by their overreliance on sanctions and their assumption that they can get other countries to go along with U.S. economic warfare against multiple countries at the same time. India, Turkey, and others already resent U.S. efforts to cut off their trade with Iran, so telling them that they also can’t trade with Venezuela isn’t likely to go over well. The Trump administration has handled Venezuela with their typical obliviousness to the interests of other states, and then they sound surprised when other governments don’t play along with their regime change fantasy.

One year after the Trump administration began this farcical pursuit of regime change in Venezuela, Maduro is as firmly entrenched in power as ever, and U.S. sanctions are contributing to the worsening humanitarian crisis. The smart thing to do now would be to end the economic war that is only hurting the civilian population and support a return to negotiations for new elections. Venezuela hawks have led the U.S. down a dead end, and it is time to stop following them before things get even worse.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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