Trump’s military threat has Venezuelan dictator dancing for joy

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It’s been said that those who are loudest in their threats are weakest in their actions. Threats are often ineffective, and idle threats always are. On Friday, President Donald Trump announced that the United States had “many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option, if necessary.”

Those words, intended to make Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro quake in his boots, instead more likely inspired Maduro to break out into the salsa dancing he so often inflicts on Venezuelans during his television appearances.

{mosads}Put simply, there is no way the U.S. will invade Venezuela. Americans have no appetite for further international military adventurism. Unless the Maduro government took more drastic action against U.S. interests, President Trump would have an impossible task in rallying support on Capitol Hill or among the American public for any substantial military move in Venezuela.

 

He would also fail to receive any kind of international support and face worldwide censure, including from the United Nations and the Organization of American States.

Also, despite what you may hear from pundits who fondly remember American invasions of Panama and Grenada, Venezuela is in a whole other league. It is about 12 times the size of Panama, more than twice the size of Iraq and about the size of Texas and Utah put together. Venezuela’s population is pushing 32 million and the Caracas metropolitan area alone has significantly more people than all of Panama.

Also, according to the Global Firepower Index, the Venezuelan military is the 45th-strongest in the world, no match for the U.S., but still a significant fighting force. A military invasion of Venezuela, if resisted by the country’s armed forces, especially in densely-populated Caracas, would undoubtedly lead to a catastrophic loss of innocent lives.

Of course, military action against Venezuela could be more limited in scope than a full invasion. But what would that entail and what would it achieve? Pinpoint strikes to destroy ships and planes of the Venezuelan armed forces? Navy ships and military aircraft (other than some helicopters) have had no role in the repression unleashed against protesters and would likely not help them at all.

Also, bombing of military installations would likely kill rank-and-file soldiers, not the corrupt generals who have kept the dictatorship alive. The same would happen if attacks focused on the Venezuelan national guard, which is responsible for much of the repression and human rights abuses against protesters. Another possibility, attacking the headquarters of the SEBIN, Venezuela’s secret police, would likely kill political prisoners who are being held there, many of whom have reportedly been tortured.

Another strong argument against military intervention is that while more than 80 percent of Venezuelans oppose the Maduro dictatorship, polls have shown most oppose American troops violating Venezuelan sovereignty.

Understandably, most of Latin America rejects “Yankee involvement” because of the long history of the CIA toppling regimes in the region. Responding to the Trump comments, the always colorful former Mexican President Vicente Fox, a vocal Maduro critic, tweeted: “Donald, get it together! Your mouth is quicker than your mind. Venezuela needs a way out, but NOT through violence.”

Another prominent and passionate opponent of the Maduro dictatorship, Jose Miguel Vivanco, the executive director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch, tweeted: “Perhaps since Chavez named him his successor, no one had helped Maduro as much as Trump and this nonsense.”

In fact, Trump’s ill-advised threat has boosted Maduro’s fortunes. The saber-rattling, front-page news throughout the continent has fueled the dictatorship’s narrative that U.S. aggression is behind all of Venezuela’s ills and that opposition leaders are American puppets. Furthermore, at a time when regional condemnation of his dictatorship had gained momentum, some of Maduro’s strongest detractors found themselves having to reject Trump’s bluster.

None of this should be understood to diminish, in any way, the threat posed by Venezuela to American national security. Venezuela has become a “narco-state,” where powerful members of the government are actively involved in facilitating the international drug trade to the U.S. and Europe. Reuters reported Venezuela has 5000 MANPADS, the shoulder-fired missiles that could bring down commercial jetliners.

CNN found evidence that the Venezuelan government has provided passports to people linked to Hezbollah. Further anarchy in Venezuela could seriously disrupt international oil markets. Venezuela has become an increasingly strong ally of Russia, China, Iran, Syria and even North Korea. If the new, all-powerful constituent assembly turns Venezuela into a communist totalitarian state, the refugee crisis it would trigger could dwarf anything the Americas have ever seen.  

The U.S. must play a prominent role in helping Venezuela return to democracy, but it must not do so through unilateral freelancing. Instead, it should support multilateral diplomacy, where regional leaders take the vanguard. All major and mid-sized countries in the Americas, with the shameful exceptions of socialist-led Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and El Salvador, have condemned the Venezuelan government, and the country was suspended from the Mercosur trade bloc.

The U.S. must also work to have the European Union get on board in sanctioning an ever-greater number of members of the Maduro government. Many of them have families living abroad in luxury provided by the fruits of corruption that has stolen hundreds of billions of dollars from the Venezuelan treasury over the last decade. Broader sanctions could help splinter Maduro’s support and encourage a transition away from dictatorship.

President Trump could have avoided the controversy by not mentioning military action and simply saying that all options remain open when it comes to the Venezuelan crisis. But Trump, no student of history, has yet to learn from Teddy Roosevelt to speak softly and carry a big stick, or from Ronald Reagan that power comes from a strong and consistent foreign policy, not overheated rhetoric.

Antonio Mora is a former news anchor for “Good Morning America,” former host of Al Jazeera America’s primetime international news hour. He is both a Venezuelan and American lawyer who appears regularly on television as a Venezuelan-affairs analyst.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill. 

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