Is it really in the U.S. interest to stay out of Venezuela? A Rebuttal

Mar 5, 2019

By Jerome Long

In a recent CuencaHighLife opinion piece, Brandon Turberville recycles the tired, old propaganda reminiscent of drivel from the 1960s. He adds nothing new that Nicholas Maduro hasn’t already said. Typical of despots and dictators, Maduro has blamed the United States for everything wrong in Venezuela. Indeed, such people want to blame the United States for everything wrong in the world. Oh well, I guess it comes with the territory. But I agree with Mr. Turberville on one thing: the United States should not militarily intervene in Venezuela.

I had thought to write an essay offering a point by point refutation of Mr. Turberville’s polemics. But then it occurred to me: why bother? Those who agree with Mr. Turberville will not be persuaded to the contrary no matter what I or anyone else says nor what the evidence indicates. I might as well argue to the wall. Such a course would be a waste of electrons.

Venezuelans at the immigration check point on the Ecuadorian-Colombian border.

Neither is it necessary to convince those readers who disagree with Mr. Turberville. You already understand the world situation better than him. Nevertheless, his opinion deserves some sort of response.

What is particularly galling about Mr. Turberville’s piece and US foreign policy regarding Venezuela is that it forces one to defend a foreign-policy developed by an administration so flawed as the Trump administration. The despicable things done and lies told by Mr. Trump are legion. It is not necessary to go into them here. Indeed, it is surprising, given Mr. Trump’s propensity to schmooze with tyrants like Kim Jong-Un and Vladimir Putin, that he has not cozied up to Maduro. However, one must give credit where credit is due.

The United States should not militarily intervene in Venezuela. It doesn’t have to. Sooner or later, Maduro, like a rotten apple, will take a fall: a gentle one that sees him in exile in Cuba, or a hard one such as that meted out to Muammar Gaddafi. And this will be done not by any foreign agency, but by the Venezuelan people themselves. Venezuela, the birthplace of Bolivar and Sucre, will not put up with Maduro forever.

Defenders of Nicholas Maduro seem to have forgotten the lessons of International Relations 101. So a review and reality check is necessary.

All nations and all individuals act in their own self-interest. (Sorry, Christians, love has little or nothing to do with it. Self-interest comes first, love comes later.) Hopefully, as Hobbes wrote, they act in enlightened self-interest. In order to act in self-interest, nations utilize four fundamental aspects of power: diplomatic, information, military force, and economic influence. This is called the DIME principle. Each aspect of this principle is readily apparent in the case of Venezuela and how South America and the world views the Maduro regime.

Diplomatically, the United States, much of the Western world, and most importantly, many South American countries have come together to condemn Maduro and to force him from office. It is true that he has allies supporting him but they are remote and not all that enthusiastic. This has isolated Maduro and increased the pressure on him.

In terms of information, news reports of the terrible conditions existing in Venezuela work to reinforce that diplomatic isolation. The recent refusal of the Maduro government to allow humanitarian assistance to reach the Venezuelan people speaks louder than can any propaganda effort. Maduro has taken repressive steps against the media and engaged in shrill rhetoric to offset the reporting of facts by the international press and to prevent his people from learning the full extent of Venezuela’s condition. In this, he is trying to kill the messenger. Contrary to Mr. Turberville’s beliefs, Western media is not monolithic. Cuenca HighLife, e.g., is not a pawn of the US government.

Military intervention should always be a resort. In Latin America, such intervention has rarely succeeded and has always left the seeds of resentment in those countries that the United States has tried to “help.” Any military intervention in Venezuela will also run counter to South American expectations. The days when the US military or the CIA could topple an unfriendly government with impunity are long gone. Nevertheless, military intervention cannot be ruled out or taken off the table as it deters aggression by the Venezuelan government against other countries, like Columbia, with which Maduro has severed diplomatic ties.

The key tool in the DIME toolbox is economic influence. In this, the United States has had to do little or nothing. Maduro, like Chavez before him, through ineptitude and corruption, has done it all himself. Mr. Turberville blames Venezuela’s economic ills on the United States and other western nations. But the truth is that having kicked out American companies and investors, Venezuela has gone it alone for years. Although the United States has repeatedly offered economic assistance, the Chavez and Maduro regimes have repeatedly turned it down. American influence in Venezuelan internal economics has been at an all-time low.

Suffice it to say, also, that Mr. Turberville has limited understanding of free trade. Rather than argue that in this limited space, I recommend that he read some of Paul Krugman’s work on the subject. (By the way, Mr. Turberville, even Marx approved of free trade. Sort of.)

Finally, one must examine what’s in the interest of both the United States and Venezuela. Obviously, a stable economy and the ability to feed its people is in the interest of Venezuela. At present, it cannot do that. In order to implement any of the DIME principles, the United States must determine what’s in its interests. Plainly, the existence of a corrupt government in Venezuela is not a vital interest of the United States. The United States is not threatened, nor will it fall, by the existence of a tinhorn dictator in that country. And, no, it doesn’t need Venezuela’s oil. The United States non-vital interest in Venezuela is threefold.

First, is the moral question. The fact is that people in Venezuelan are starving. A country that proclaims itself to be the richest and most democratic country in the world cannot sit by and ignore the human catastrophe that is Venezuela.

Secondly, an unstable Venezuela is not in the interest of the United States nor any South American country. Instability raises the likelihood of war. A clear example of this is Weimar Germany. Rampant unemployment and hyperinflation made it easy for Hitler to steal the German government. That made war inevitable.

Finally, doing what it can to help the Venezuelan people, short of forcing regime change through military intervention, furthers the image that the United States would like to have in South America. For too many decades South America has been treated like the feudal property of the US. At best, South America has been ignored by both Democratic and Republican administrations for decades. Helping the Venezuelan people to help themselves would do much to dispel the negative image many South Americans have of the US. That, in turn, could lead to more robust trade partnerships and cooperation to the benefit of all partners.

So, yeah, the United States and its allies should not militarily intervene in Venezuela. But they cannot, and must not, ignore their own interests or the needs of Venezuela. They must act in concert diplomatically, economically, and informationally to send Maduro into obscurity.

Jerome Long is a retired attorney and sometimes freelance writer living in Wisconsin where the temperature never varies beyond -40 and 110F. He is a frequent visitor to Ecuador and Cuenca.

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