Is it time for Russia to get a taste of the Monroe Doctrine?
So much for "Hands off Venezuela," as Rep. Ilhan Omar likes to say.
Thus far on Twitter, she's been suspiciously quiet about the new reality: that Russian troops are now rolling into Venezuela, to prop up the embattled — and failed — socialist dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro. Even the swamp-focused Hill has noticed the story:
Two Russian Air Force planes landed in Venezuela carrying nearly 100 troops and a Russian defense official, according to Reuters.
Flight-tracking website Flightradar24 indicated an Ilyushin IL-62 passenger jet and an Antonov AN-124 military cargo plane both departed from Russian military airport Chkalovsky for Caracas on Friday, according to the news service.
The two nations conducted military exercises on Venezuelan soil three months ago, which President Nicolás Maduro praised as an indicator of stronger ties between the two countries, according to Reuters.
Vasily Tonkoshkurov, chief of staff of the ground forces, was on the first plane, according to a tweet from Venezuelan reporter Javier Mayorca, while the second was a cargo plane carrying 35 metric tons of unspecified materials.
The Venezuelan thug had been on his last legs, with democratic forces circling him — and in comes the Russian cavalry, or whatever those troops have been assigned to do. There is some speculation that they are there to repair Venezuela's shambling military aircraft, originally purchased for billions, from Russian suppliers.
Last legs, though, is likely true, given the large number of defections from Venezuela's military. Four days in February yielded "hundreds" of defecting troops, the Colombian government said. A more recent report says that number has swelled to thousands.
Now we have Russians on Western Hemispheric soil, and at a minimum, they're putting on a show to test President Trump's resolve, similar to the Cuban missile crisis. They're also there to guard the Maduro regime against Venezuela's people who want him out of there.
What they've done is strike harder and faster than the U.S. has, the U.S. having calculated that it can just wait for the slow bleed of defecting Venezuelan troops to do its work.
The Russians saw that wait and decided to seize the day. They are, after all, students of history. They know that not being militarily prepared for an invasion is a good way to get an Afghanistan-like result — so they've upgraded. They also know that color revolutions spell trouble for them, and as the independent Moscow Times notes, they are reading Venezuela as a color revolution. They also know that propping up a dictator, as they did in Syria, as a means of defending their perceived strategic interests works with the Americans, who have pretty much let him have his way there. Lastly, they know in their bones that the U.S. would gladly do anything to avoid any direct confrontation with them, which was the lesson they took from the Cuban missile crisis.
This indeed means that it is a test for President Trump.
Here's the thing, though: they seem to be underestimating certain other factors.
Venezuela's effort to free itself is far from just an ordinary contest of groups and interests. It's a virtually pan-national consensus in that country that the failed dictatorship has to go, and this consensus has the support of virtually all of the country's neighbors, which is quite unprecedented in Latin American history. Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, Canada, and many other states are very much onboard, and momentum is rolling. Put troops on the ground in Venezuela, and risk confrontation with a whole slew of angry countries.
That President Trump's lieutenants are intensely focused on Venezuela and putting a lot of priorities in that direction. They have allies in Congress, such as Sen. Marco Rubio. And aside from leftist clowns peddling decades-old tropes such as Omar, they have the Democratic leadership, too. They do, after all, want to win Florida in 2020. Challenging a U.S. that focused on an issue is a recipe for trouble.
The U.S. has precedent and history to invoke in this challenge, called the Monroe Doctrine. That doctrine, far from being a tool of U.S. imperialism, as the actually imperialist Castroite government of Cuba charges, is a policy of protecting nascent Latin American states from foreign interference so they can develop on their own. There are plenty of reasons to bring it up now.
Lastly, they seem to think President Trump is a paper tiger, someone who will shrink to avoid confrontation even as he talks tough. Trump is a man of surprises. Perhaps the Russians are going to find out the hard way that they've chosen poorly.