Home/Daniel Larison/Venezuela and the Bankruptcy of the Foreign Policy Establishment

Venezuela and the Bankruptcy of the Foreign Policy Establishment

Venezuelan dictator Nicholas Maduro is an evil man, but President Trump has no business threatening him with military action (Marcos Salgado/Shutterstock)

Richard Haass wants you to know that he doesn’t actually support a coup in Venezuela. He suggests something much worse:

“If you don’t like the idea of the U.S. talking to the military, then what do you propose?” said Richard N. Haass, a former top State Department official in the George W. Bush administration who is now the president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

He said that while he did not support a coup, the region should consider a “Latin American coalition of the willing,” an alliance of Venezuela’s neighbors created for a possible regional military intervention, similar to the United States’ invasion of Iraq.

Talking about military intervention in Venezuela was foolish and reckless when Trump brought it up last year, it was still a horrible idea when Rubio floated it last week, and it isn’t any better when it gets the stamp of approval from the president of the Council on Foreign Relations. Haass’ initial response to the news that administration officials met to would-be coup plotters in Venezuela was bad, but now that he has had time to think about it he has managed to come up with an even worse answer. That is unfortunately typical of a broad swathe of the foreign policy establishment that is drawn to failed destructive policies again and again, and it shows how bankrupt that establishment has become. Haass appears to be think that the only two options available are encouraging a coup or launching an invasion, and he still has the gall to complain when other people object to these two appalling, illegal proposals.

The phrase “coalition of the willing” is a good sign that the policy being proposed is a) illegal and b) a fig leaf for U.S. military intervention. The Bush administration and its allies used this phrase to cover for the fact that the invasion of Iraq was primarily a U.S. and British affair being launched in blatant violation of international law. If enough other states could be cajoled and bribed into participating, it would lend the illegal attack the veneer of multilateral respectability. One problem with reusing this terrible model is that there are no other regional governments interested in intervening militarily in Venezuela, and no regional governments want the U.S. to intervene. They all made this perfectly clear when Trump first suggested the idea. Where would this supposed “coalition” come from? More to the point, what authority would any of these governments have to invade their neighbor? It wouldn’t be coming from the Security Council, since we can be sure that Russia and China would block it. It doesn’t come from anywhere in the U.N. Charter. No one could seriously claim that invading Venezuela is an act of self-defense. An invasion of Venezuela for the explicit purpose of regime change is clearly illegal and a violation of the U.N. and OAS Charters.

As many people noted over the last few days, it is particularly rich for Haass to be the one to endorse such an option, since it was just a couple months ago that he was saying this:

Leave aside for a moment the remarkable whitewashing of most of the history of the last four hundred years, and just consider how selective and opportunistic Haass’ views on sovereignty and non-interference are. When an adversary tramples on the sovereignty of its neighbor, Haass condemns it and calls them a rogue state. When it comes to proposing the invasion of Venezuela (supposedly for its own good, of course), all questions of international law and sovereignty go right out the window. That is unfortunately all too common in our foreign policy debates, and it is one reason why U.S. criticisms of other states’ illegal actions carry so little weight. Many members of our foreign policy establishment speak reverently about the “rules-based international order” in one breath and then in the next call for tossing the rules in the gutter because it is expedient to do so.

To answer Haass’ question, the alternatives to starting a civil war or launching an invasion are many and not hard to find. They include but are not limited to maintaining a united regional diplomatic front, providing assistance to Venezuela’s neighbors to cope with the influx of refugees, providing humanitarian relief for the civilian population, documenting abuses by Venezuela’s political leaders and their allies, and eliminating any sanctions that may be exacerbating the country’s economic woes. There are bound to be many more that would be more constructive and preferable to the illegal knee-jerk interventionist options Haass is entertaining. Above all, U.S. policy should be coordinated with regional governments and it should be informed by what they think is in the best interests of regional stability. It should be obvious that starting a war in Venezuela would be calamitous for the country and all of its neighbors and would represent a huge step backwards for the entire hemisphere, and it is a sign of how warped our foreign policy debates are that any of this has to be said.

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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