Terry H. Schwadron
Jan. 25, 2019
Within days of President Trump announcing that we had to leave Syria abruptly because we cannot be the world’s policeman, the same president is basically threatening economically ravaged Venezuela in a policy filled with risk.
With our own government in partial shutdown out of presidential pique, it is somehow jarring to hear our America First president attack a government strongman in our own hemisphere. Rather than offering more help to the millions of people left in the middle — perhaps even through loosened immigration — we are rattling our sabers.
Trump has joined those in backing the opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, who is trying to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro, and has vowed to use United States might to oust Maduro. The Venezuelan military, however, has continued to back Maduro, as does an aggressive Russia.
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Maduro’s rule “is morally bankrupt, it’s economically incompetent and it is profoundly corrupt. It is undemocratic to the core.” The United States also offered $20 million in emergency aid to the opposition party and hinted at committing the U.S. military.
The United States has requested an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council for tomorrow on the Venezuela crisis.
It does make you wonder exactly what the United States wants in Venezuela, and how it sees itself in connection with its neighbors. If the White House would consider military power in this situation, why not in Honduras and Guatemala, the troubled homes of those who form the immigrant caravans that our president so detests? Or is Venezuela important because there is oil there?
There is no doubt about confusion and conflict in Venezuela, where food and basic supplies are now scarce and political repression high. Maduro has ordered U.S. diplomats in the country to be expelled. U.S. diplomats were ordered to stay, while families were decamping.
In short, this has become an international crisis point, with the United States fully in the middle of it, despite the White House insistence on a policy of withdrawal from world trouble spots.
As The New York Times notes, “President Trump has finally met a strongman he does not like. After making friends with autocrats around the world, Trump has drawn a red line with Nicolás Maduro, demanding that the iron-fisted president of Venezuela hand power to his opposition.”
Trump’s decision to support what amounts to regime change in Venezuela, an avowedly socialist nation with large, nationalized oil deposits, is a sharp departure from America First, non-interventionist thinking. It is the opposite of what this president has said he supports as American foreign policy.
With the decision by the Venezuelan military to stand by Maduro, the situation could put American diplomats in harm’s way. Mr. Trump said that “all options are on the table,” suggesting the possibility of military force. But, as The Times said, even if it does not come to that, Trump faces a loss of credibility if Maduro ultimately defies American pressure and holds onto power.
The situation in Venezuela has deteriorated further in recent weeks, with large-scale protests and deadly government crackdowns accompanying the latest inauguration of Maduro. The United States and several other governments have decided to back opposition lawmaker Juan Guaidó to lead the country.
Maduro’s policies have created runaway inflation, plunging the country into poverty and pushing millions to leave, mostly for Colombia.
Maduro was the political heir to Hugo Chávez, who turned a populist presidency into corruption and worse. He nationalizes industries and undercut Venezuelan institutions.
Maduro, his vice president, took over after Chávez’s death. He was a weaker leader and therefore relied far more on handouts at a time when the government had even less money, prompting Maduro to simply print more money. This drove up inflation, making basic goods unaffordable, so he instituted price controls and fixed the exchange rate. This caused shortages and made many imports prohibitively expensive. Businesses shut down. Food and medicine became scarce.
Like Chávez, Maduro was linked to Cuba and the Castro regimes. In the United States, Maduro has consistently drawn the ire of Sen. Mario Rubio, R-Fla., and anti-Cuban politicians.
None of the United States reaction is a surprise, really. Rather it does show that we’d rather join a fight as a bully than as a helpful neighbor.