Former President George Washington famously warned his successors to avoid foreign entanglements when he left office in 1796. But 223 years later, the United States has repeatedly ignored his plea.
“Our country seems to have a habit of toppling foreign governments,” University of Vermont Political Science Professor Melissa Willard-Foster said in a Feb. 7 lecture at Emory. “Pretty much every president since FDR has pursued foreign-imposed regime change.”
Most recently, President Donald J. Trump’s recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, once again inserting the U.S. into another country’s politics.
Willard-Foster, who has researched why hegemonic countries force administration changes, has shown that it is less costly for countries to opt for intervention instead of negotiating a settlement that would keep the leader in place. However, the U.S. would err in authorizing military force in ongoing talks with Venezuela.
Few countries are in as much turmoil as Venezuela. Since Nicolas Maduro was elected president of Venezuela in 2013, he has overseen a nation imploding on itself. In October 2018, the International Monetary Fund predicted the country’s inflation rate was likely to top 10,000,000 percent by the end of 2019, an astounding indication of a crisis reminiscent of post-World War I Germany when people towed wheelbarrows of money to stores to buy basic necessities. On the humanitarian side, Maduro’s faux-democratic government has jailed political dissidents, violently attacked opposition protests and held a mockery of an election last May in which critics were barred from running. More than half of Venezuelan families cannot scrape together enough money to address basic food needs, causing the average citizen to lose 24 pounds over the past year. These problems have been exacerbated under Maduro’s corrupt and inept reign, and there is no question it is time for him to go.
Nevertheless, if Trump authorized a military expedition to remove Maduro, it would be a massive misstep. Although he has been noncommittal on the idea, both Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton seem receptive to a military expedition. And as we’ve learned from his administration, Trump’s mindset is always subject to change.
The problems with this strategy are numerous and could cost the U.S. for years to come, as with Iraq in 2003. Even if the military operation successfully removes Maduro, the odds would favor a prolonged conflict within Venezuela. While Guaido has seemingly united factions of the opposition, there is no guarantee he would be able to hold off an insurgency against the new government. Venezuela also controls twice the amount of land of Iraq and it is likely that U.S. troops would be stationed in the country for the foreseeable future to support the new-formed regime from attacks.
Furthermore, some experts believe direct meddling could push other Latin American countries further in support of Maduro because of their overarching distaste for U.S. interventionism.
The Trump administration needs to keep ramping up economic sanctions against the Venezuelan government to bring Maduro to the negotiating table, not plan a military coup. Additionally, we should increase the amount of aid in the form of food and medicine for those hurt by the oppressive regime to help with the unimaginable hardships they are experiencing. While Maduro has made a point of blockading his country from receiving any of this support, anything that gets through is helpful and everything that doesn’t foster feelings of resentment toward Maduro.
The U.S. has to act fast and work with its allies to get rid of Maduro once and for all, without involving our armed forces. Military intervention would be dire for the U.S. and the Venezuelan people.
Robert Woolf (21C) is from Chappaqua, N.Y.