If the U.S. isn't going to militarily hose out Venezuela, it better start making Russia's Venezuela military intervention expensive
Has President Trump finally met his match in Vladimir Putin? The stakes are getting very high as Russia expands its presence in Venezuela and the U.S. retreats from the use of military force. CBNC calls it a "showdown of world power," writing:
The first major showdown of our new era of great power competition, unfolding with accelerating speed over the past ten weeks in Venezuela, has entered a dangerous new phase. That is true, most of all, for the Venezuelan people, but also for Latin American democracies and for vital US interests in the Western Hemisphere.
How this drama turns out may mark the most significant test yet of the Trump administration’s credibility, following a highest-level chorus this week of President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton, who all declared – in one way or another – that Russia had to get out of the country.
But things aren't looking all that great now from the U.S. side. Elliott Abrams, the State Department's Special Representative for Venezuela has pretty well taken U.S. military intervention off the table with his statement that: “I do not think Europe, Latin America, Canada and the United States are thinking, at this moment, of a military reaction.”
April Glaspie, call your office.
Abrams then really blew it, as the conservative/libertarian PanAm Post's editor, Luis Ball, notes, when he started giving advice to Venezuela's democrats about what their national assembly could ask for, making them look like the U.S.'s little pawns, for one, and telling them beforehand not to even think of asking us for a Marine invasion. Not a good look diplomatically for the U.S. as Russia rolls in the reinforcements in Caracas, and the whole thing makes it easy for Maduro to start arresting the democratic Venezuelans since he knows he has nothing to worry about by doing it. The Venezuelans have been thrown under the bus.
The State Department seems to know the whole thing was a mistake, too. PanAm Post's Orlando Avendano, wrote a column describing what a disaster it was and his editor headlined it as a 'surrender.' I wrote about that yesterday, here. The State Department then made three calls to the PanAm Post demanding that they change their headline. The publication rightly dug in its heels, and the State Department spokeswoman then threatened to declare them a 'Russian troll,' which was shockingly unprofessional. (Presumably, the U.S. has authentic intelligence about who is and isn't a Russian troll, and if they did, they would know the PanAm Post isn't - and they wouldn't throw that charge around to just anyone they had a spat with as a result. Now one wonders if they do have authentic intelligence about such matters at all. And Putin smiles.)
That wasn't the State Department's only countermove. Besides slapping at the PanAm Post, "a senior U.S. official" (Abrams himself?) called up reporters, including the Washington Examiner, to say this:
A military intervention to oust Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro remains “a very serious option” for the United States, according to President Trump’s national security team.“Obviously, that’s a result that no one would like to see but clearly one that is seriously considered as events unfold,” a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters Friday evening.
That sounds like damage control. And the WashEx's piece was linked on the Drudge Report, dissociated from any other anchor stories, so it had to be about this spat with the PanAm Post. Damage control is nice, but the cat's out of the bag.
My take? The U.S. now needs to make the best of this. There is no need to be fighting among ourselves about this. We all know that President Trump is reluctant to get the U.S. involved in military adventures and even if we do send the Marines to hose out Caracas, we are likely to see it written up as U.S. wicked intervention in the Latin American history books, so in a way, we can't win even if we do free the hemisphere from socialist domination. It's a tough thing to swallow, but understandable, and the polls show the U.S. has little appetite for more foreign interventions.
Venezuela's democrats do have to be protected, however, because they are now in increased danger by the U.S. retreat, with Maduro now knowing nothing he does is going to trigger a Marine invasion and Russia more than willing to step up to the plate to help him stay in power. Some means of protection has got to be found.
If the U.S. doesn't want this military solution, it needs to focus on Russia and Cuba, the two tyannies that are propping Maduro up in power. Cuba has no money or military equipment, so force and dirty tricks are the only thing they are going to understand.
Russia, though, is something else. It's in Venezuela in part because it's a major lender to Venezuela and the socialist hellhole owes it some $60 billion in loans for military equipment. Could the U.S. and Venezuela's democrats work out something to put the squeeze on Russia on that front? Could the Venezuelans warn Russia that if it doesn't get its troops the hell out, it won't get paid once the democrats get into power? The U.S. could support that by vowing to not transfer any of the money or use some other mechanism to make it painful. Economic warfare on this front might be helpful.
Russia itself is in lousy economic condition, too. Could the U.S. ramp up the costs of Russia's military adventure in Venezuela by finding ways to force Russia's costs higher? Russia's public has little taste for military adventurism, too, and right now is hurting on the domestic front. Some kind of blockade on ships coming into the Caribbean ought to ramp up costs, and perhaps a lot of CIA dirty tricks such as false assassination and bomb plots for them to investigate (in fairness, that may be a Maduroite pretext for arresting democrats, so it's dangerous), and anything that can block military rations or supplies, forcing costly end-runs for Russia might work. Russia has been defeated in the past by the U.S. forcing its rival to spend itself into the ground, as the great Ronald Reagan demonstrated. Maybe this is the tool we have.
It might be the only way to dislodge the Maduro regime at this point if a Marine invasion is untenable. As Pedro Burelli noted in a tweet: "After many years in the capital of the empire [meaning, Washington, D.C., where he lives], I am sure the United States will not invade. BUT, it will not fail."
If the U.S. wants to fight the Venezuelan war on the Russian front, we can only hope that Burelli right. A great power showdown looks like the next stage of this Venezuela confrontation.
Image credit: Kremlin.ru // CC BY-SA 4.0