Will Trump be tempted to abandon one of his lesser feted policies and attack Venezuela? Since taking office President Trump has been insistent in preventing United States getting embroiled in foreign wars. He vowed to bring troops back home from current wars that US is engaged in. However the US predatory machine is gearing up to overthrow the incumbent Venezuelan leader, President Maduro and replace him with someone friendlier to US investments, particularly in Venezuela’s oil. The prospect of a US led war on Venezuela are being mooted openly in the press. Juan Guaidó, the preferred candidate for Venezuela Presidency has already said, ‘all options are on the table’.
That Venezuela is a focus for possible war isn’t difficult to predict. If a political analyst wants to prophesise the next country facing an internal coup or being drawn into the theatre of war in which USA and UK are involved, it is worth following BBC. The BBC starts to focus on the country, its human rights, its corruption, its instability and the alleged lack of democracy. The BBC and some American media foment a reasonable public appetite for the UK and USA to intervene in the targeted country. The prelude to war in Syria was a classic example, as was the war on Iraq.
Venezuela is the country now under the lens. It risks being the next Syria with war a real possibility that might engulf South America, but perhaps for Trump’s reluctance to wage foreign wars. He appears to prefer fighting head on his domestic battles than distract attention to foreign turfs when challenged at home. For an American President, Trump is somewhat unique in this. President Maduro’s greatest but unwitting ally in avoiding war as the American war machine gets restless may well be the man who has to give final order for American troops to invade.
There are other factors that help Trump to avoid pressure for war from his hawks. Although almost all South American Governments are keen to see Maduro toppled, none are keen to engage in military operation and even less eager for United States to send in the forces.
Venezuela has the second largest army in South America. Its top brass is integrated into the political ideology of Maduro. It was Hugo Chavez who ensured that Generals supporting left wing politics were elevated to the top. Moreover the army also has its fingers in key business interests. It is not likely to abandon Maduro and will defend any invasion. Even if it gets toppled, many of its senior officers will wage a guerrilla war if an American backed leader takes over as a result of a violent coup aided by an invasion. Other South American countries have little desire to turn the continent into Syria.
Moreover the United States has a reputation in South America of interference, organising coups, destabilising governments and even conducting covert army operations. Although all other South American leaders are pro US, they do not want to encourage US to start another adventure in the continent despite wanting to see Maduro replaced. They know that the US could start eyeing other countries too. Brazil, Columbia and Peru have already signalled their reluctance to see any armed invasion of Venezuela. Spain and the rest of EU have also made statements against armed intervention.
An invasion of Venezuela could end up as a protracted war which means millions more refugees will spill into neighbouring countries. There is no appetite in South America for such mass refugee migrations. Most countries have their own problems. This is another deterrence against invasion by neighbouring countries.
There is of course Maduro’s alliance with Russia and China. China has invested heavily in Venezuela. It also has investments in other South American countries. For it, Venezuela will be a test. Does it stick by allies or will it be opportunist and let Maduro down to save its interests in other South American countries. China has usually pursued its own interests. On the international sphere it has not been tested yet as a dependable ally. It is unlikely to save Maduro if he goes on sinking. However so far it has defended Maduro at the UN. If it comes to a war, that may be another matter.
Russia on the other hand likes to stick by its allies. But Venezuela is far away and too close to United States geographically. The infamous Cuban crises is not lost on Russia.
However Russia could provide logistic support, weapons and advice as it has done in Syria. It is reported to have sent personnel to guard Maduro and other elite political figures. Russia has sent arms too. In the event Venezuela is invaded, Russia is likely to get involved despite being far away and a weak economy. Cuba no doubt will provide logistic support. With relations between Russia and West already at a low, most western countries want to avoid deepening it further.
But the hawks in United States have been threatening war, with words such as ‘all options are on the table’. Venezuela’s opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, recognised as the interim President by some twenty countries has also been a bit bellicose threatening ‘all option’. Apart from a few deserters, the Venezuelan army has not shown any sign of disloyalty to Maduro.
The unknown card is President Donald Trump. The big question in relation to Venezuela is whether Trump will actually sanction war or will he continue to push economic blockade with the hope that the Venezuelan people and the army will topple Maduro. And if it seems plan A is not getting off the ground, and his hawks continue to beat the war drums, will Trump then pull another one of his ingenious alternate diplomatic tricks and diffuse the crises.
For all the negative press he has received in the liberal media, unlike his predecessors, Trump has avoided a foreign war. His instincts so far have been to go on megaphone rhetoric threatening war but at the last minute ignore his generals and his hawks. He is one of the few, if any, American Presidents who have not been checkmated by the American war machine into signing on the dotted line, ‘war’. On twitter he outwits the hawks and even kicks them out of office.
Trump has ingeniously found other ways to contain his target. For instance he deftly diffused the North Korean crises. He is on his second meeting with Kim Jung Un. The standoff with Kim Jung Un had reached playground abusive language but suddenly fizzled out with a characteristic Trump U turn and his unique style of diplomacy.
Trump has so far been an interesting person. He was seen by many liberals as the person with the most ‘dangerous’ and irresponsible finger on the red button, (the nuclear button), but so far he has defied the soothsayers and uniquely stayed away from triggering wars, instead choosing trade and creative diplomacy to pursue international interests.
How he diffuses Venezuela and draws the rhetoric back from war will test his skills. Will he keep the Maduro standoff simmering like Iran or will he suddenly find a ‘Trump bridge’ and shake hands with Maduro, forcing his own regime to come to terms with the Venezuelan leader?
Given his history since taking the Presidency, Trump is unlikely to wage war. This will frustrate his hawks. But he is an unpredictable figure defying the best pundits, ignoring advisors, rejecting intelligence reports and dismissing media rhetoric. He is his own man, taking his own counsel. Who knows, he may well advise himself that invasion is best. It will also depend on how Maduro, advised by Putin, handles Trump, rather than the Trump administration. Venezuela will probably duck being another Syria.