Let’s be real here. Venezuela’s dictator Nicolas Maduro is a former bus driver who rose through incompetence and luck to become a pompous, ruthless twit who’s turned a wealthy oil-rich land into a stagnant, starving socialist state.
Bernie Sanders expressed admiration for socialism there years ago. But Maduro and Hugo Chavez before him have created widespread starvation, hyperinflation and a refugee nightmare for millions of Venezuelans and Colombia and Brazil.
Maduro would be one of those laughable Peter Sellers movie characters if his military wasn’t running over protesters in the streets of Venezuela, a large, resource-rich country of 32 million about the size of Texas and Arizona combined.
As with North Korea and Iran, President Trump’s diplomatic instincts have wisely taken him on an ever-tightening sanctions route, halting oil sales to its largest markets, freezing accounts and tying up bank transactions to strangle Maduro’s finances. He’s also endorsed an opposition socialist democrat as president. It’s a smart strategy that’s worked pretty well so far weakening Maduro’s position.
But now comes crunch time in actually ousting Venezuela’s most powerful mustache or looking weak and ineffective to the world. Trump, John Bolton and Mike Pompeo all maintain the usual diplomatic doo-dah about “all options are on the table.”
They have to say that to present a realistic threat. But hopefully, the military option is not on any table at Southern Command, just outside Miami.
There are complications. One, Venezuela unlike Iran and Pyongyang, is an American neighbor, just 1,300 miles south of Miami. Two, like horseflies at a picnic, Russia and China are always attracted to trouble and political carrion, especially if it complicates life for Washington in its own backyard.
Remember, in return for propping up Syria’s dictator in his bloody civil war, Vladimir Putin got a nifty warm-water naval base there, Russia’s first. With a sharp eye on embedding themselves in the Americas, both Moscow and Beijing are helping Maduro endure. Cuba too, though it needs propping itself.
And three, Iran and North Korea do not have upwards of 300,000 Venezuelan ex-pat residents as does Florida, a crucial swing state Trump will need next year to extend his White House lease.
Now comes Florida Sen. Rick Scott, a successful ex-governor and Trump supporter, suggesting that U.S. military intervention might be necessary to prevent — wait for the loaded word — genocide by an evil dictator.
If this sounds a frightening alarm in your memory bank, it should. That’s the precise specious argument that Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama used in 2011 to justify bombing Libya’s evil dictator, Moammar Gadaffi, out of office. The Libyan had merely threatened to kill civilians.
How’d that turn out for everyone? Gadaffi died at the hands of a mob, which made Hillary Clinton happy. But we then had Benghazi. And Libya has turned into a lawless, broken land suitable for training terrorists, including a metastasizing ISIS and others leaking down into Africa.
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians have been shot, bombed and gassed for real and Obama wouldn’t even arm rebels there.
Here’s a hard fact: Despite the best intentions in the world, the U.S. is pretty bad at major military interventions. We have the best military on Earth, dedicated, devoted, disciplined. We ask them to do difficult things and they usually succeed at great personal sacrifice.
But outside of Reagan’s short Grenada intervention and perhaps Bush I’s brief Panama foray, Americans simply do not as a people have the enduring personal or political will to last long enough to succeed in complex interventions. It’s a fact. Face it. Think Vietnam, courageous, valiant, defeat.
Afghanistan started as a cleansing revenge act for 9/11. It has now become America’s longest war, costing 2,425 U.S. soldiers’ lives, 1,100 more NATO troops and hundreds of billions. After all that, anyone ready to bet on a future of peaceful democracy in that collection of feudal, feuding tribal lands?
What’s happening in Venezuela is horrible. What’s happening in many places is horrible. How about Burma’s actual genocide on its Rohingya minority? But that doesn’t mean we can or should or could intervene successfully everywhere.
Donald Trump made a big campaign deal in 2016 out of wanting fewer military activities abroad. No more nation-building. He talked America First, which a lot of people like. Trump talks tough and likes to counter-punch. He may win or lose reelection next year on his merits or demerits. But if he starts another war, he’s political toast. “You’re fired!”
Scott is an ally. So too now is Marco Rubio. Florida is politically important. Hopefully, none of that matters when it comes to a presidential decision on sending American warriors into yet another troubled foreign land.