Push is coming to shove in Venezuela.
President Donald Trump has decided that the government of President Nicolás Maduro must go.
They have recognized an obscure right-wing Venezuelan politician — Juan Guaido — as head of state. They’ve tightened sanctions again and again, adding directly to the dire suffering of the Venezuelan people.
They’ve encouraged the military to revolt. And when the failure of Guaido’s latest coup attempt embarrassed them last week, they’ve threatened direct military intervention.
“All options are on the table,” Trump repeats.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that Trump has a “full range of options” when it comes to next moves against the Venezuelan government, claiming that Trump doesn’t need congressional authorization to act.
John Bolton announced that the “Monroe Doctrine is alive and well. It’s our hemisphere.” He noted that he wasn’t prepared to apply Teddy Roosevelt’s corollary that asserted the U.S. power to intervene unilaterally anywhere in the hemisphere “yet.”
In fact, military intervention in Venezuela would be blatantly illegal under both international law and the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution gives Congress the right to declare war, something that the right-wing justices who claim to be guided by the text somehow ignore.
The entire system of international law constructed in the wake of World War II by the United States is based upon non-intervention and state sovereignty. Even the so-called right to protect — the right to intervene to avoid a human rights catastrophe — requires approval by the Security Council. Unilateral action violates the law.
The Trump administration’s insatiable appetite for regime change is more than a crime, it is a blunder.
For decades, the U.S. claimed to be the “indispensable nation” because we would enforce a “rules-based” world order fairly. Now Trump and his band of armchair warriors are turning the U.S into a lawless rogue nation, following in the errant footsteps of their predecessors.
Recent forays into regime change — in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Honduras, Syria — have all ended in disaster, ruinous not only for the people of the country but also for U.S. lives and treasure as well.
Venezuela poses no threat to the U.S. It is a bitterly divided country, politically, racially and economically. The U.S. was party to a failed coup attempt against Hugo Chavez in 2002.
Maduro’s misrule, the falling price of oil, U.S. sanctions have all combined to crater the Venezuelan economy, spreading misery with millions deciding to leave. Bolton recklessly boasts about U.S. plans to help rebuild the economy once Maduro is gone — “planning for what we call the day after.”
No doubt, Trump will want the U.S. or U.S. companies to “take the oil,” as he claims we should have done in Iraq. This folly is likely to put us in the middle of a civil war that will only add to the humanitarian disaster in Venezuela.
Surely, we should have learned from Libya that a bad state is not nearly as bad as a failed state.
Instead of Teddy Roosevelt and the days of gunboat diplomacy, the U.S. should be following the prudent advice of Franklin Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy.
FDR outlined principles for good hemispheric relations, including respect for the integrity of other states; self-restraint and acceptance of the equal rights of neighbors, non- intervention in the domestic affairs of neighbors, and settlement of disputes by negotiation, not force.
Venezuela is a sovereign nation and a neighbor. Maduro is supported by Russia, China and Cuba.
We don’t believe that Russia has the right to overthrow the governments of Ukraine or Georgia simply because we support their governments. We should be acting to alleviate the humanitarian crisis afflicting the Venezuelan people, not add to it. No matter how hateful we think Maduro is, it is up to the Venezuelan people to decide who will govern them.
The last thing we should do is attempt to dictate — particularly through threat or use of force — who will rule a land of nearly 30 million people.
Now is the time for Congress to act, to pass a resolution to prevent U.S. military action in Venezuela.
If Trump and his bellicose henchmen have their way, we will surely regret it.