Learning the Lessons of Failure in Venezuela

Another sobering lesson to take from the failure of Venezuela policy is that absolutely no one in Washington that cheered on this disaster will pay any price for their support.

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James Bosworth looks back at the failed experiment with U.S.-led international backing for Juan Guaidó as “interim” president of Venezuela:

Disputed elections are far too common in Latin America, but only rarely has such a divide between the de jure and de facto presidencies recognized by the rest of the world lasted so long. For those countries that recognized Guaido, the failure of the strategy may now keep them from recognizing other legitimate presidents in the future, to the benefit of those who enter or hold onto office unconstitutionally. No one wants to work with dictatorships. But if the Guaido experience teaches us one thing, it is that governments need to be cautious when they attempt legal maneuvers that don’t change the actual balance of power on the ground, as they may just be setting a trap for themselves.

One big lesson that the U.S. should take away from its failed regime change policy in Venezuela is that it should steer clear of taking sides in the internal political disputes of other countries. Another lesson our government should draw is that it should not listen to the convenient, self-serving recommendations of ideological exiles and their allies in Congress when they promise quick success in bringing down a foreign government. The US shouldn’t be seeking regime change in any case, but our leaders should know by now that they are being set up for failure when opposition activists and their cheerleaders paint a picture that’s too good to be true.

If it is ever tempted to get in the middle of a dispute, the US should definitely set a much higher standard for recognizing an opposition leader as another country’s leader. Guaidó’s claim to be acting as interim president was fairly sketchy from the outset, but it provided a fig leaf to dress up a regime change policy as something else. As Noah Feldman pointed out at the time, “Even as fig leaves go, it’s particularly wispy and minimal.” The constitutional interpretation that the opposition used to elevate Guaidó required stretching the document’s language so that it seemed to fit the situation, but the plain meaning of the provision they invoked didn’t really allow them to set up an alternative government as they did. It was expedient to pretend that Venezuela’s presidency was vacant for the purposes of rallying international support to remove the person who was still very much occupying the presidency. You can pretend that if you want, but don’t claim that it has something to do with legitimacy.

One of the main reasons why the Trump administration embarked on this foolish course was that Trump believed that he could get an easy foreign policy win, and he was encouraged in this misguided belief by Marco Rubio and other hardliners that didn’t understand the political landscape in Venezuela. When the quick win didn’t materialize, Trump soon lost interest, but the killing sanctions have remained in place ever since. As I discussed with my colleague Kelley Vlahos a couple weeks ago, the administration sidelined those in the government that knew something about Venezuela and listened to the fantasies of ideologues instead. It comes as no surprise that the more knowledgeable country experts knew that the regime change attempt wouldn’t work out, and their words of warning fell on deaf ears. When the US makes major decisions about its relations with another country by heeding the advice of reckless hawks that don’t know much about that country, its policy typically fails or backfires and the other country ends up worse off than it was.

Read the rest of the article at SubStack

Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

12 thoughts on “Learning the Lessons of Failure in Venezuela”

  1. On the bright side we now have a plentiful supply of Venezuelans knocking at our door. I don’t fully get the beef with them anyways sure they want to be socialist/communist and maybe that isn’t the best economic system but is it really that big a problem for me here in the USA?

  2. Wow, written by a guy who obviously has no clue that the U.S. is an empire. The U.S. shouldn’t take “sides in the internal political disputes of other countries”? Sure, the U.S. shouldn’t do most of what it does internationally, starting with having military bases in other countries and making war on other countries, either directly or by proxy. But the U.S. shouldn’t be an empire either.

  3. The MSM focuses more on election problems in the USA than in foreign countries. Russia did not elect Trump in 2016 and Biden did not rig the election against Trump. US POTUS of both parties meddle in the affairs and elections of poor countries and stage coups there. Obama was responsible for a coup in Honduras, Trump rigged Brazil’s election in Bolsonaro’s favor and Bolsonaro proudly said he’d wreck the environment with Trump and they both did that.
    Both Trump and Biden illegitimately recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s misleader since they both misled the USA.

    1. “Trump rigged Brazil’s election in Bolsonaro’s favor and Bolsonaro proudly said he’d wreck the environment with Trump”
      I’m a brazilian libertarian. The answer is no. You have no idea what you’re talking about.

      1. The answer is yes. You must only be listening to Fox, Newsmax and other ultra conservative outlets.
        The USA has a long history of meddling in other nations’ affairs, both Democrats and Republicans do that. Ehud Barack Obama was responsible for a coup in Honduras, George Herbert Warmonger Bush destroyed much of Panama in his search for Noriega. And the list goes on and on.

        1. There’s no Fox in Brazil and I don’t even know what Newsmax is. I am somewhat aware of USA foreign intervention, especially in Latin America where I live – like installing Pinochet in Chile. However, that is not the case with Bolsonaro. There were years of visible corruption and increasing discontent that eventually lead to some of the biggest street manifestations of our country and the impeachment of Dilma Roussef. Bolsonaro emerged as the only trustable, non-corrupt, sort-of-outsider figure, and we rallied around him despite his flaws. As brazilian who’s been following it all, I can assure you, there was no intervetion or, if there was, it was of no relevance. Lula only won because we don’t have an electoral college and the poor, higly populated Northeast of Brazil voted en masse for him. In the rest of the country, Bolsonaro remains the most popular politician.

          1. “Corruption” is a bogus complaint, normally used to eliminate politicians who oppose the establishment. All politicians are at least somewhat corrupt, and especially so in large countries like Brazil. People have been bamboozled if they just wanted to get rid of Roussef and/or support Bolsonaro because of corruption. The ruling class of every country has plenty of resources to lie, manipulate, and brainwash people with things like “corruption” complaints.

            Furthermore, even you admit that poorer people like Lula. The fact that you like Bolsonaro shows your political attitudes and where your loyalties are. Not to mention that Bolsonaro did major destruction of the Amazon rainforest while he was president, far more than went on under Lula or Roussef.

          2. “People have been bamboozled if they just wanted to get rid of Roussef and/or support Bolsonaro because of corruption. The ruling class of every country has plenty of resources to lie, manipulate, and brainwash people with things like “corruption” complaints.”

            Quite the contrary, the media and the ruling class tried everything in their power to maintain the Worker Party status quo and discredit Bolsonaro. His rise in popularity only possible due to internet and social media.

            That poorer people like Lula doesn’t really mean anything, much less that they’ll be better off under his presidency. After all, it’s been over 25 years of leftism, including 13 years of “Lulopetismo” (Lula/Roussef) and they’re still poor.

            You know how the masses can be politically ignorant. If any brazilian demographic has been bamboozled, with the usual promisess of “free lunch,” that would be our poor Northeast.

            I don’t like Bolsonaro. Like most people I know, given the options, he’s just what we have.

  4. The US rarely acts in good faith. Take the Minsk accords as an example. The US got Germany and France to string Russia along with a fake peace deal for 8 years, and now Ukraine is going to take a much harder beating trying to hold on to the Donbas. This is how the US does foreign policy, and everyone overseas understands this now. It will get harder and harder for the US to maintain control now that even our allies don’t trust us anymore.

    1. Take all the treaties that the U.S. made with the Natives, whose land it stole and whose people it killed. The U.S. has broken every treaty, and lied to the Natives about everything, except when they told the Natives that they’d take their land. The U.S. is completely illegitimate, always has been.

  5. The US is the global empire (the singular superpower on planet earth) and their foreign policy is to make sure no country or group of countries can challenge their global hegemony (in finance, technology, military) so they are totally vested in all countries around the world. All empires extract wealth and resources from their dependencies and the US must make sure the entire planet is dependent on them for finance, technology and military. That’s the only way to control and rule the planet, to prevent any strong, independent countries from being established that can challenge you.

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