US military intervention in Venezuela would be a major mistake

US military intervention in Venezuela would be a major mistake
© Getty Images

The U.S. military has become involved in numerous conflicts across the globe over the last two decades, most notably in Iraq and Afghanistan along with a handful of other Middle Eastern and North African countries. American forces are building up in Eastern Europe, running naval and air patrols off the coast of China, and conducting a variety of activities in Africa. If some members of Congress and the foreign policy world had their way, our troops would also be active in Ukraine, North Korea and Iran.

In recent weeks, serious thinkers in Washington have raised the possibility of adding another country to that wish list: The economic crisis-riddled South American dictatorship of Venezuela.


An argument could be made that Venezuela is of more strategic interest to the United States than many of the countries where we have heavily committed ourselves in recent years. Being in the western hemisphere and sharing the greater Caribbean Sea waterway with the United States, proponents of the Monroe Doctrine would make a strong case that a destabilized or antagonistic Venezuela can have a negative impact on our economic and security interests. Such concerns are founded and should be duly considered by policymakers.

But that by no means justifies a military response to the situation there — far from it. American forces pulling ashore outside Caracas would be more likely to turn a brush fire into a blazing inferno than create economic prosperity and rule of law.

The Bolivar Republic reaping the tragic consequences after years of brutal rule under Hugo Chavez and his protégé Nicolas Maduro. Their centralized economy soured as it did in many other socialist countries of the 20th century, and in the rubble its rulers fight to hang on against the tide of hungry and disenfranchised masses.

And in the fashion of failed socialist regimes, Venezuelan leaders are attempting to hoodwink their citizens by blaming external powers — mainly the United States — for their problems.   

Witness the arrest of American citizen Joshua Holt, who was recently returned to the United States after a two-year detention in Venezuela. Holt had traveled to the country to marry a Venezuelan woman but was arrested there and charged as an intelligence agent. The spy narrative fit well to the regime’s interests as an excuse to blame outside interference for the collapsing economy.

The American Imperial-boogie man remains a powerful political device in Latin America, harkening back to two centuries of grievances — real and imagined — against the United States.

From American businesses allegedly exploiting resources and labor to the U.S. government undermining and overthrowing socialist governments during the Cold War, it is plausible to imagine that whatever our intentions, American troops intervening in a South American crisis would not be welcomed as liberators.

Venezuela has a population of over 31 million citizens and covers 353,800 square miles, a larger landmass than Afghanistan with roughly the same population. The terrain includes a diversity of environments including thick rain forests, mountains, densely populated urban areas, and remote coastlines.

An intervention there would encounter resistance from the Venezuelan military and Maduro loyalists, which could turn into a guerilla insurgency like the one waged for over half a century by the FARC in neighboring Colombia.

In the face of this, the United States would find itself trying to stabilize the situation while a humanitarian crisis spreads to neighboring countries that do not have the financial or governing resources to address it. Perhaps in the economic desperation left by war, Venezuelans will turn to profitable drug trafficking businesses like the Afghan farmers did a decade ago with opium.

The refugee displacement from a war-torn South American country could dwarf the Central American migration crisis of 2014 and overwhelm the border control capabilities of other countries, including the United States. Certainly increases in drug trafficking or other black-market activities that proliferate during conflicts would be felt in the United States and feed electoral anger over immigration.

Further, U.S. Southern Command, the geographical combatant command that would oversee any military activity in South America is under-resourced even for its mission today, which is largely focused on counter-narcotics and natural disaster recovery. Manning and equipping a force to intervene in Venezuela would be a monumentally costly and time-intensive task before even firing a shot.

Maybe policymakers are aware of these challenges and are just saber-rattling in an attempt to effect some change in Venezuela. But even this comes at a cost to U.S. credibility, something that many leaders sweated over with Syria in 2013. But ultimately, the United States is damaged in the long-run when politicians reflexively resort to military action and thus corrupt the principles that our country itself was founded on.

The U.S. may well have more strategic interests in the outcome of situations in Venezuela than in other parts of the world, which is all the more reason to be cautious and reasoned.

The last thing the U.S. needs is another foreign conflict, and an intervention in Venezuela might prove to be the most costly and wrongheaded of them all.

Robert Moore is a public policy advisor at Defense Priorities. Having spent nearly a decade working defense and foreign policy issues on Capitol Hill, Robert has extensive knowledge of, and experience with, the policy-making process, including how Congress shapes U.S. national security. He most recently served as the lead staffer for Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeTrump signs major conservation bill into law Tea Party rises up against McConnell's trillion relief plan Hillicon Valley: Twitter bans thousands of QAnon accounts | Bipartisan support grows for election funds in Senate stimulus bill | Senate committee advances bill to ban TikTok from federal devices MORE on the Senate Armed Services Committee. He also advised Sen. Lee on matters of foreign relations, intelligence, homeland security, and veterans affairs. He previously worked as part of Sen. Jim DeMint's national security team.