Venezuela and the Logic of US Military Interventions

Former Venezuela Presidential Chief of Staff Beatrice Rangel takes a look at the history of U.S. interventions in Latin America, distills the 3 criteria necessary to justify an invasion and draws probabilities of an invasion.

President Trump surprised many on a Friday August afternoon with his statement that he was considering military intervention as policy option to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. Most Venezuelans in exile cheered the announcement. Others seemed skeptical. Most analysts think it will never happen.

To those that closely follow U.S. foreign policy, military interventions follow a logic that fails to materialize in Venezuela.

First, interventions in Latin America only occur in places where it is easy and relatively cheap to take military action.

This basically means that interventions will probably occur more often where they do not cost much, either directly in terms of decision-maker time and resources, or in terms of damage to significant interests.

An exception to that rule was the US-Mexico war from 1846 to 1848 that was costly and bloody but proved fruitful in securing territory of an additional 529,000 square miles.

All other interventions have taken place in small and inadequately armed countries. In many with the support of factions of the local elites. Anywhere in South America a military intervention would seem to be costly and bloody.

Nations in the Southern region of the Americas are endowed with a very rich geography that includes rain forests and mountains which, as every invading army all too well knows, pose logistic and resource problems. To put it bluntly Venezuela is no Grenada.

Two other factors intervening in the decision to invade are domestic politics and global strategy.

On the domestic policy side of the decision to invade, the Venezuelan-American community has yet to gain political leverage.

And while the Cuban American community would definitively support the policy, their members might demand equal treatment for Cuba. Particularly if the alleged occupation by Cuba of Venezuela is responsible for the ongoing crisis.

Considering rising tensions with North Korea, Russia and some countries in the Middle East, the scenario of twin invasions in the Caribbean seems to have low plausibility.

Another argument pertaining to domestic policy underlines the need for the Trump administration to show the American People a foreign policy success. This perhaps is the feeblest of all arguments.

President Trump’s supporters are staunch isolationists. These are the guys supporting the building of a modern version of the Great Wall of China in the border with Mexico. Foreign policy to most of them is a distraction from the domestic agenda which is what president Trump should be concentrating on. An invasion of Venezuela runs little chance of generating popularity. Particularly if executed before there is something resembling a healthcare bill or a tax cut.

Yet another argument is global strategic equilibrium.

The United States in the 20th century defined its strategic interests in global terms. Thus, for a military operation to be considered, it needs to pose a clear and present threat to U.S. national security interests or pose such threat to a U.S. strategic ally.

Most national intelligence estimates fail to identify Venezuela as a clear and present danger to U.S. national security. Thus, military intervention while being under consideration would probably fail to materialize.

Going forward, a state dominated by drug mafias at the heart of the Caribbean and with leverage on the upcoming presidential elections in Colombia could change this view. But currently Venezuela is not yet a real U.S. national security threat.

Published by on Monday August 14th, 2017 

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