Even as President Donald Trump works to extricate the U.S. military from Afghanistan and Syria, administration hawks won't rule out the possibility of fomenting armed conflict in Venezuela. The Cold War-era conflicts that roiled Central America during the 1980s should serve as warning enough that any U.S. military meddling in Venezuela holds a high potential for long-term disaster.
The waves of immigrants surging from Central America today underscore the consequences of wars exacerbated by the CIA, American troops and their surrogates in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala. Corruption, political instability, the spread of gangs and rampant drug trafficking in Central America are just a few of the ripple effects from U.S. interventionist policies.
Could someone in the Trump administration please try to learn from history instead of repeating it?
The specter of Central America hovers particularly ominously over U.S. activities in Venezuela because the administration's point man there, Elliott Abrams, also served as the Reagan administration's point man in Central America with links to the Iran-Contra scandal. The former assistant secretary of state was convicted after admitting to having withheld information from Congress about covert U.S. aid to Nicaragua's contra rebels. President George H.W. Bush pardoned Abrams in 1991.
Doubly worrying was a photograph two weeks ago of national security adviser John Bolton heading into a White House briefing with a notepad on which was written, "5,000 troops to Colombia." Asked about potential U.S. military involvement, the White House responded that "all options are on the table."
Colombia shares a nearly 1,400-mile border with Venezuela. The two nations have clashed repeatedly over cross-border infiltration by leftist guerrillas. The United States deployed military advisers in the late 1990s and early 2000s to help fend off an onslaught by Colombian guerrillas and right-wing paramilitary groups, both fueled by drug money.
Around that time, Venezuelans elected firebrand socialist leader Hugo Chavez, a former army colonel who led an abortive 1992 coup. Chavez systematically dismantled South America's longest-enduring democracy and installed a socialist dictatorship allied with Cuba and Russia. He died in 2013, leaving an economic and social disaster for his hand-picked successor, Nicolas Maduro. Conditions have dramatically worsened since.
Trump has made clear he wants Maduro ousted and has gone so far as to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido, the newly elected National Assembly leader, as Venezuela's president.
Already, an estimated 3 million Venezuelans have fled their oil-rich country's growing turmoil. Researchers at the Brookings Institution estimate that the number could grow to more than 8 million, dwarfing the Central American migrant surge and possibly even surpassing the Syrian refugee crisis.
Trump has a proven penchant for making decisions on the fly, trusting his gut and eschewing the notion of disciplined policy planning. The last thing Venezuela's powder keg needs is the Trumpian touch.
REPRINTED FROM THE ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH