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Trump discussion of Venezuela intervention compared to Iraq war



Venezuela Donald Trump graffiti Nazi swastika
mural of President Donald Trump, showing him wearing a Nazi
swastika, in Caracas, next to the Spanish message: “We are those
of peace,” November 14, 2017.

Photo/Ariana Cubillos

  • Trump has repeatedly expressed interest in taking
    military action in Venezuela.
  • Experts and officials from around the region have
    rebuffed such action, with some comparing it to the invasion of
  • But others have held out military action, as part of a
    collective response, as an option of last resort.

President Donald Trump’s unexpected declaration in August 2017
that he was “not going to rule out a military
” in Venezuela earned swift rebuke both
inside and outside the US.

But in the year since the US has kept pressure on
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government, punishing
dozens of officials with sanctions but sparing others in a gambit to stoke tensions
in Caracas.

Trump has reportedly pressed his
advisers and Latin American leaders about military action, citing
what he believed to be past successful US-led interventions, and
officials from his administration met with, but ultimately
rebuffed, Venezuelan officials
looking for help to depose Maduro.

In recent weeks, voices outside the White House have
invoked US military action an option to address a crisis that has
only worsened.

FILE PHOTO: Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during an event with supporters of Somos Venezuela (We are Venezuela) movement in Caracas, Venezuela February 7, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello
President Nicolas Maduro at an event in Caracas, February 7,


In late August, a day after meeting with national-security
adviser John Bolton, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio — a
close Trump adviser on Latin American issues — said he believed Venezuela had
become a destabilizing force.

“I believe that the armed forces of the United States are
only used in the case of a threat to national security,” Rubio
said, adding that he believed there was a “very strong” argument
that “Venezuela and the Maduro regime have become a threat to the
region and to the United States.”

The region has taken some action to isolate Maduro, but the
idea of US intervention has been widely rejected.

Government repression and deepening misery in Venezuela
warrant a push for political change, according to Shannon O’Neil,
a senior fellow for Latin America Studies at the Council on
Foreign Relations.

“But US military intervention is not the way to do it,” O’Neil
argued this month. “Venezuela
isn’t Grenada or Panama, the two Latin American countries invaded
by the US during the closing days of the Cold War.”

A demonstrator is detained at a rally during a strike called to protest against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas, Venezuela, July 27, 2017. Ueslei Marcelino:
A demonstrator is detained
at protest against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s
government in Caracas, July 27, 2017.

Thomson Reuters

Such action would require a US commitment on the scale of the
invasion of Iraq, a country half the size of Venezuela with
slightly more people.

Any invasion requires preparations on a similar scale,
meaning a 100,000-plus force,” O’Neil writes.

Polling indicates US troops wouldn’t be welcomed in Venezuela,
O’Neil said, and political divides and deteriorated
infrastructure mean any recovery effort would be a long one.

Retired US Navy Adm. James Stavridis, who led US Southern
Command, said this month that the
“Trump administration needs to avoid anything that smacks of
unilateral US military action.”

The US should instead boost interagency coordination and
encourage greater involvement by other countries, Stavridis said.

“All of the major countries of the hemisphere, particularly
Venezuela’s immediate neighbors, need to coordinate and come to
an agreement on an appropriate response today and if and how to
escalate that response if necessary in the future,” James
Bosworth, founder of political-risk-analysis firm Hxagon, told
Business Insider.

“The US should definitely not act alone.”

‘Too late and too innocent’

Colombia Venezuela border migrants
police officers stand in front of people queueing to try to cross
into Colombia from Venezuela through Simon Bolivar international
bridge in Cucuta, Colombia, January 24, 2018.

REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

While many argue against unilateral US action, military action in
some form has been held out as an option.

During a visit this month to Cucuta — ground zero for Venezuelan
migration into Colombia
— Luis Almargo, head of the
Organization of American States, accused Maduro of crimes against
humanity and argued for keeping military action on the table.

“With respect to a military intervention to overthrow
Nicolas Maduro’s regime, I don’t think any option should be ruled
out,” Almargo said. “Diplomatic actions
should be the first priority but we shouldn’t rule out any

Almargo later acknowledged there was
little appetite for intervention but stressed that the
responsibility-to-protect doctrine obligated the international
community to respond, citing the case of Rwanda as a failure do

Francisco Santos, Colombia’s ambassador to the US, echoed Almargo a few days
later, stressing the need for a collective response
(Colombian President Ivan Duque, a hardliner on Venezuela, has
said US intervention “is not the way.”)

“But we believe, and let me be very clear, that all the options
should be considered,” Santos said, calling for more pressure on
Maduro. “It is already too late and too innocent to think that
this will be solved without a change of regime.”

‘Almost nobody wants a military intervention’

People walk past a graffiti that reads:
walk past a graffiti that says “Maduro, misery” in Caracas,
August 18, 2018.


Given Maduro’s abuses — including repressing peaceful
protest and using access to food to control the public — Almargo
was correct to say the responsibility-to-protect doctrine held
out military action if other responses fail, Bosworth

But that doctrine calls for a “collectively coordinated effort”
and is clear that non-military options to protect Venezuelans
“are preferred and must be attempted first,” he added.

“Almost nobody wants a military intervention in Venezuela.
It’s unfortunate that we’ve wasted the last few weeks arguing
over whether intervention is ‘on the table’ … rather than
discussing other non-military ways to pressure Maduro,” Bosworth

“Those non-military options are where we should be focused
right now.”

Colombia soldier border Venezuela
Colombian soldier guards the border with Venezuela in Cucuta,
Colombia, February 9, 2018.

REUTERS/Javier Andres Rojas

Others in the region have expressed a continued commitment
to a peaceful solution.

In a statement issued after Almargo’s comments, 11

14 members of the Lima Group, formed in 2017 to
address the situation in Venezuela, rejected military action and
reiterated its commitment to a “peaceful and negotiated
resolution. (Colombia did not sign the statement, thought it said
it agreed with its “purposes.”)

In Uruguay, where Almargo was foreign minister, the
government and the opposition united to reject

“If there is a word that Uruguay detests,” said Foreign Minister Rodolfo
Nin Novoa, “it’s intervention.”

Brazil also distanced itself from Almargo.

“We don’t see [as] viable any other type of mechanism, like
the use of military means or force, in order to solve the problem
of Venezuela,” Brazil’s defense minister said this week.

Juan Manuel Santos Donald Trump
Donald Trump and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos speak
during a joint news conference at the White House in Washington,
May 18, 2017.


Geoff Ramsey, assistant director of the Venezuela program
at the Washington Office on Latin America, said discussing
intervention was likely to change little in Caracas.

“I think those pushing this rhetoric know it’s an empty
threat, but for some reason think it’s a useful pressure tactic,”
Ramsey said on Twitter.

Venezuela’s government likely doesn’t buy into US threats,
as Caracas “is not ignorant” of how unpopular such action would
be at home, he added.

While resistance to action on the ground in Venezuela
remains widespread, the Trump administration has promised more
action to isolate Maduro’s government.

“You’ll see in the coming days a series of actions that
continue to increase the pressure level against the Venezuelan
leadership folks, who are working directly against the best
interest of the Venezuelan people,” Secretary of State Mike
Pompeo said on Friday.

Pompeo did not elaborate but said the US is

determined to ensure that the Venezuelan people get
their say.”

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