Trump's Venezuela crisis may mark start of 'Second Cold War'

Trump's Venezuela crisis may mark start of 'Second Cold War'
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In the not-too-distant future, we might very well point to the Venezuela crisis as the first “hot” conflict of the Second Cold War. The road to success for the Venezuelan people — and others around the world who cherish freedom — is likely to be significantly rougher and longer than either those in the Venezuelan National Assembly or the White House thought.

The world’s rogue states, criminal organizations and radical groups have benefited greatly over the past decade with Venezuela serving as a hub for illicit deals, trafficking and money laundering. Indeed, Venezuela has become a pillar in the burgeoning alternative global market used to violate international and domestic laws and to avoid American and European sanctions. Cuban and Russian involvement, in particular, is motivated not just by revenue but also by using Venezuela as a tool in their mission to bring down the United States-led world order.

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The United States should expect that many key figures around Nicolas Maduro would rather see Venezuela utterly destroyed than make the transition back into “America’s orbit” — and they have the capabilities to cling to power long enough to realize this.

The U.S. and the Venezuelan National Assembly have taken intelligent tactical measures toward achieving the installation of a transition government as precursor to democratic elections. These steps have been in accordance with achieving two strategic objectives to restore democracy and, ultimately, stability in Venezuela: firmly establishing the National Assembly and its president, Juan Guaidó, as the acting president of Venezuela, and splintering Maduro’s support base among the armed forces and other armed groups.

For now, the transition government’s power is concentrated in the person of President Guaidó — he is the embodiment of the people of Venezuela on the streets and in the democratically elected National Assembly, legitimate under the Venezuelan Constitution, and recognized by most of the free world.

Maduro’s power is in control of territory, control over a wide array of armed groups (the Venezuelan armed forces, paramilitary groups, terrorist organizations, foreign mercenaries and special forces), and control over significant illicit revenue streams (in particular, drug trafficking and illegal mining operations) — with the exception of some parts of Venezuela controlled by irregular actors. Maduro is backed by countries that have repeatedly demonstrated, over the past decade, a willingness to commit human, financial and armed resources to thwart American objectives, and they have been successful to this end, in particular in Ukraine and Syria.

This hard-power delta between Maduro and Guaidó suggests the second of America’s strategic objectives — splintering Maduro’s support among the armed forces — falls short of what will be required to see a transition in Venezuela. Even if factions of the armed forces refuse to fire on protestors, this does not mean they will take up arms against Maduro-supporting militarized groups — and, even if they do, it is questionable whether their numbers and capabilities would be significant enough so as to win. 

President Guaidó has begun working with the Trump administration to extend his power financially with access to seized assets and Venezuelan state assets overseas. In addition to this, President Guaidó, with support from the United States and other allied countries, must expand his power through the institutionalization of personnel within Venezuela and globally. He must develop, in conjunction with allies, options for obtaining control over territory — air, sea, land and cyber. The second strategic objective is likely not the splintering of the armed forces, but the defeat of a significant portion of them.

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If transition is not achieved, this will be a loss that goes down in history as owned by President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says 'Failing New York Times' should be held 'fully accountable' over Russia report Trump says 'Failing New York Times' should be held 'fully accountable' over Russia report Trump tweets ICE will begin removing 'millions' of undocumented migrants MORE. Millions more Venezuelan refugees will flee (destabilizing mass migration is a favored weapon of the Cubans and Russians), famine will become more widespread, and the Maduro-aligned evil actors will continue to operate as a global hub for anti-Western, anti-human objectives for decades. These people will accelerate the spread of organized crime and narco-terror and will consolidate the anchoring of extremist terror-linked groups, as well as Russian and Chinese influence in the Americas.

This scenario would afford the Russians a greater ability to drive oil-price volatility, with negative consequences for U.S. shale, liquified natural gas (LNG) export, and business investment and operations planning. U.S. sanctioning of the oil industry, although painful for all actors in the short term, very well could play into their long-term objective of isolating more of the map from the U.S. economic system.

If Presidents Guaidó and Trump are successful, we can see the amelioration of the Western Hemisphere’s greatest humanitarian disaster in decades, a once-free people again living with human and civil rights, and an economic revitalization. More than $400 billion of trade and investment would occur in the first five years, post-transition, to provide the Venezuelan people with adequate food and health care, restore necessary infrastructure, and rejuvenate a once-prosperous private sector so as to make return possible for the more than 3 million Venezuelans who have had to leave.

Castroism, the global criminal business syndicate masquerading as a revolution for justice, for too long has been a sickness in the world. Venezuela is a symptom of this international pestilence, and success there will require treatment from beyond its borders. With minimal cost to the U.S. taxpayer, and in genuine coordination with allies in the region, President Trump can accomplish what eluded the Obama and Bush administrations: power held by duly-elected representatives of the Venezuelan people who will bring peace, prosperity and justice to this once vibrant South American country.

Michael B. Schoenleber is a Princeton-based software entrepreneur and has worked with Venezuelan civic and humanitarian organizations for more than a decade.

Christopher Nixon Cox is a member of the board of directors of the Richard Nixon Foundation and a non-resident fellow in Princeton’s Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination.

Juan C. Lechín is an expert in Latin American populism and the author of "The Masks of Fascism" (2011). He has worked in Mexico, Bolivia, Peru and Venezuela as a political analyst and consultant.