By Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis, USA, Ret.
Violence erupted in Venezuela on Tuesday, as opposition leader Juan Guaidó called for an uprising of protesters demanding dictator Nicolás Maduro step down. The last thing the United States should do is involve itself—especially militarily—in Venezuela’s violent, chaotic political crisis and humanitarian disaster. Early signs from Washington indicate that’s exactly what they’re threatening to do.
As a nation concerned with freedom, democracy, and the well-being of the Venezuelan people, we should studiously avoid getting sucked into yet another regime-change quagmire and keep U.S. military personnel out of Venezuela.
America’s track record of trying to impose our will on a foreign country’s political system over the past 60-plus years has been an unqualified, abysmal failure. If we attempt to pick a winner in the political crisis now unfolding in Caracas, our chances of failure are so high as to be virtually guaranteed. A quick refresher on U.S. history of trying to take sides in other countries’ civil strife should temper our enthusiasm to deepen our involvement in Venezuela.
In 1953, the CIA helped orchestrate a coup of the democratically elected leader of Iran and installed the Shah. He proved to be incurably corrupt, and his oppression of the Iranian people laid the foundation for the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini and a popular revolution to overthrow the Shah. The clerical regime remains a menace in the Middle East to this day.
In 1963, senior Administration officials helped support a coup of the democratically elected leader of South Vietnam because we didn’t like his policies. The coup was successful, yet the successor government was just as corrupt and contributed to that side’s loss in the Vietnam War.
In 1963, U.S. military and CIA personnel helped orchestrate a group of Cubans to attempt a coup of Fidel Castro. The group failed in the infamous Bay of Pigs invasion. Castro then successfully silenced all opposition and held on to unchecked power for the next four decades.
In 2001, we militarily destroyed the Taliban regime and set up a new regime of our choosing. The new government has proven incurably corrupt and remains incapable of effectively governing its people or defeating the Taliban insurgency. We’ve been fighting alongside Kabul for 18 years with no end in sight.
In 2011, we facilitated the overthrow of brutal dictator Moammar Gaddafi. Libya remains in a civil war, with two governments claiming sovereignty, where violence, death, and chaos define the politics.
Shortly after Guaidó’s supporters began to protest on Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that the United States “fully supports” Guaidó’s actions. It’s not clear if Pompeo meant the U.S. was prepared to provide military support, at which National Security Advisor John Bolton has previously hinted, or whether it was limited merely to moral support. If it’s the former, we are headed into dangerous territory. If it’s the latter, we may be setting many Venezuelans up for tragedy.
Under no circumstances should Trump listen to his more hawkish advisors and give any serious consideration to sending U.S. military personnel to fight for one side in a Venezuelan civil war. It is a losing proposition with virtually no chance at a positive outcome, either for Guaidó’s supporters nor for the American people.
And if the calls by the administration are just messaging, and they’re not seriously considering military action, that too is dangerous and ill-advised.
In the aftermath of Desert Storm in mid-1991, President George H.W. Bush strongly encouraged Shia Muslims and Kurds to rise up and overthrow Saddam. Many Iraqis at the time believed if they rose up, Bush would send in the military to support them. They were fatally mistaken.
I was part of the U.S. Army forces in southern Iraq at the time, and we watched in horror as Sunnis began to riot in the city of An-Nasiriya when Saddam’s Republican Guard troops began slaughtering the people. We wanted badly to attack Saddam’s troops and defend the civilians, but Bush did not allow the military to respond; he was rightly afraid of getting drawn into a protracted war.
If Trump similarly does not intend to insert our troops into a Venezuelan civil war, he should make that clear. Otherwise, Guaidó and his supporters may believe “the cavalry” is coming and take on Maduro militarily—and then be at risk of suffering a slaughter similar to the Shia.
It is time for a hard-nosed, realistic view of a very bad set of circumstances in Caracas. Trump’s actions have to be based on a rational, logical assessment of American interests and how they would be affected by the range of potential and likely outcomes. In virtually no rational scenario can our country benefit by the employment of any lethal military power.
With no security concerns and no direct interests at stake, the best thing the United States can do for the people of Venezuela—and for Americans—is to abandon regime change, help relieve the humanitarian crisis, encourage all parties to resolve their disputes according to their own laws and constitution, and engage in regional diplomacy with other like-minded countries. There is no “quick fix” for Venezuela’s problems. Any use of American military, regardless of how much it may satisfy a yearning to “do something,” will turn a crisis into a tragedy and likely plunge the U.S. into another endless nation-building mistake.
Daniel L. Davis is a Senior Fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who retired in 2015 after 21 years, including four combat deployments. Follow him @DanielLDavis1.
This piece was originally published by Fox News on May 3, 2019. Read more HERE.