The Folly of a War with Venezuela
Jonathan Swan reports that Trump recently floated the possibility of military intervention in Venezuela:
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told me that as recently as a couple of weeks ago Trump mused to him about the possibility of using military force in Venezuela, where the U.S. government is currently pushing for regime change using diplomatic and economic pressures.
Trump’s willingness to entertain the idea of attacking Venezuela is worrying because it shows that even now he keeps coming back to a military option that virtually everyone has told him he shouldn’t use. According to reporting from last year, Trump seems to think that war in Venezuela would be like the invasions of Panama and Grenada:
But Trump pushed back. Although he gave no indication he was about to order up military plans, he pointed to what he considered past cases of successful gunboat diplomacy in the region, according to the official, like the invasions of Panama and Grenada in the 1980s.
The idea, despite his aides’ best attempts to shoot it down, would nonetheless persist in the president’s head.
The president clearly has no problem with attacking a regional neighbor, and that makes it much more likely that he will go along with demands to “do something” that are inevitably coming if the crisis in Venezuela escalates. The Trump administration is now effectively extending U.S. security guarantees to Guaidó and his supporters, and if Trump and his advisers are serious about what they’re saying they are setting the U.S. up to attack the Venezuelan government if it uses force against its domestic opponents. Micah Zenko notes how expansive these guarantees are even when compared to the commitments the U.S. has to defend our treaty allies:
These are more sweeping protections than the US extends to collective defense treaty allies….Venezuela hasn't been a such a treaty ally since 2013. https://t.co/zZRzJXY43N
— Micah Zenko (@MicahZenko) January 27, 2019
A “significant response” doesn’t necessarily have to include military action, but coming from Bolton it is hard to imagine that this phrase means something else. This is how taking sides in another country’s internal political dispute can quickly turn into a major U.S. military commitment. There is a real danger that Trump could respond impulsively to events in Venezuela and order military action that could drag the U.S. into another open-ended, unnecessary war. If the U.S. does end up attacking the Venezuelan government, it will be a disaster for the people of Venezuela, and it isn’t going to be the quick and easy war that Trump apparently believes it will be.