The Pitfalls of Meddling in Venezuela
Hugh Hewitt thinks meddling in Venezuela is a political winner for Trump:
HUGH HEWITT: “Sad, no compromise,” again, it’s in the word cloud. The next three weeks allow the opportunity to go big and solve this. Jared Kushner’s leading it. And it is far more important to shut down the Maduro government than our government. And I think Donald Trump is leading there. And he is winning there, because of Bolton and Pompeo going down to see Bolsonaro and Duque. That’s going to happen. That’s going to bring us together [bold mine-DL].
CHUCK TODD: That is going to bring us together, getting involved in Latin American politics that — has it ever gone well for the United States in years past?
HUGH HEWITT: Absolutely. Because you know, Russia is against that.
Trump’s decision to interfere in Venezuela is a bad one in terms of policy, and for that reason I don’t see how it does much to help him politically, either. If everything somehow worked out perfectly and Maduro gave up power in the next few months, there are very few voters who would care. Meddling in Venezuela’s internal affairs is a high-risk, low-reward proposition for Trump, and simply by making the attempt I suspect he has alienated more than a few of his supporters. Toppling Maduro certainly wouldn’t “bring us together” in any meaningful way. But that best-case scenario isn’t likely to happen. Maduro is unlikely to give up power anytime soon, if he ever does. Joe Parkin Daniels and Mariana Zúñiga explain how Maduro has retained the loyalty of the top military commanders:
However, Maduro keeps the loyalty of the armed forces by granting leaders stakes in PDVSA, the state-run oil company, and turning a blind eye to their involvement in illegal activities, including drug trafficking and gold mining. That quid pro quo is bolstered by an anti-American ideology, something U.S. President Donald Trump’s statement on Wednesday inadvertently fueled.
“These are guys that fought with Chávez, that believe in their hearts that the U.S. is the enemy,” said Eva Golinger, the author of Confidante of ‘Tyrants’ and a former defender of Chávez.
The decision to recognize Guaidó as president creates real risks for the U.S. Tess Bridgeman considers the potential pitfalls of recognizing Guaidó before he has established any effective control in the country:
Whether or not the United States takes some form of military action, Guaidó’s grasp may strengthen over time but it may also slip. That’s the fundamental tension at the heart of this gambit on the part of the United States and other outside powers. Recognizing Guaidó at this early stage may give him the best chance of gaining support from civil society and the military ranks. But recognizing Guaidó before he has obviously obtained a level of control increases the probability that the future will not work out well, and it will be harder to de-recognize him until we’re well past the point for doing so.
While the U.S. is convinced that Guaidó has taken power legitimately, the Venezuelan military doesn’t accept this and won’t follow orders from a president they don’t acknowledge. A president who can’t command his government’s armed forces is not really in charge of anything. Many other governments might consider Maduro to be illegitimate, but as long as the military stays with him it is unlikely that the opposition can prevail. This is one of many reasons why the U.S. shouldn’t have irresponsibly taken sides in a foreign crisis on the say-so of dangerous ideologues.
Meanwhile, a prolonged standoff between Maduro and Guaidó could further damage Venezuela’s economy:
A long and drawn-out stalemate that affects Venezuela’s oil exports, which provide 95% of the country’s hard currency income, could double the size of this year’s economic contraction to a 30% decline in economic output from an estimated 15% decline, estimates Asdrubal Oliveros, head of the consulting firm Ecoanalitica in Caracas. That would further fuel the country’s widespread hunger problem.
A drawn-out contest between parallel governments would inflict more punishment on a population that has already endured terrible hardship. Unfortunately, those severe consequences for the civilian population aren’t stopping some members of our foreign policy establishment from calling for an oil embargo:
To increase pressure on illegitimate Maduro regime and signal military this govt has no future, US should stop importing Venezuelan crude and stop exporting refined products-but we should provide humanitarian aid if it can be distributed directly to people rather than thru govt.
— Richard N. Haass (@RichardHaass) January 27, 2019
Haass has been eagerly looking for some way to make the situation in Venezuela worse for some time. Further strangling Venezuela’s economy in the hopes of triggering regime change is just the sort of cruel and ill-considered proposal we have come to expect from him. The line about humanitarian aid at the end is little more than an afterthought, and an insulting, inadequate one at that. Aid won’t be able to make up for the damage that an oil embargo would do to Venezuela’s economy. This is a reminder that interventionists have no problem causing even greater hardship for the civilian population in Venezuela so long as the U.S. gets to meddle and “shape” events there.