Graham is Wrong

This time on Venezuela

Senator Lindsey Graham was spouting nonsense about Venezuela on Fox News on Friday wherein he was urging military action against Venezuela. Here’s a video clip:

The key quotes:

“It’s a time of testing,” Graham responded, urging Trump to “put military force on the table” the way President Ronald Reagan did when he invaded Grenada in 1983. This, he argued, could help sever Venezuela’s support from Cuba.

[…]

“We need points on the board. Start with your own backyard. Tell Cuba if you are not out of Venezuela, in a week, and people are starving and dying in Venezuela because Maduro is such a thug, then we are making a mistake. Fix Venezuela and everybody else will know you are serious.”

Source: ThinkProgress: Lindsey Graham wants to invade Venezuela to put ‘points on the board’

In the clip he also claims that “without Cuba, Maduro doesn’t last one day.”

All of this is painful nonsense. It is a tough guy fantasy that does not comport with reality. Worse, anyone who has been paying a modicum of attention to world affairs in the last two decades should know this.

Let’s consider the record on regime change of late: Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya (not to mention the situation in Syria). In terms of the rhetoric of people like Graham (and, indeed, of Graham himself), have any of these turned out to be easy? Have any of them turned out to be clear successes?

Regime change is hard. It is costly. It is unpredictable. Above all: it is not easy.

Indeed: when was the last time US military-induced regime change resulted in an authoritarian regime becoming a peaceful, friendly democracy? The only cases I can think of are from WWII.*

There is no he “doesn’t last one day” if the US just does X or Y.

To get to the specifics of Graham’s claims:

  1. The notion that Cuba can be threatened into cutting off ties with Venezuela make no sense. What are we going to threaten them with? Where’s the leverage? (I don’t think an easier pathway for Cuban baseball players into the MLB will do the trick).
  2. Side note: for those keeping score at home, the US has been actively trying to pressure the Cuban government into acquiescence since the 1959 Revolution. (You know, to foment regime change and whatnot). How is that working out?
  3. Even if the threat works, where is the evidence and logic that the only thing keeping Maduro in power is Cuba? The support of the Venezuelan military and other internal factors are the key here, not Cuban support.
  4. The Grenada example is not comparable. Without getting into the wisdom or politics of that invasion, it was a minor event against an almost non-existent foe. The risk was minimal, and the mission was limited. There is no comparison between that action and whatever might be contemplated in Venezuela.
  5. Invading Venezuela for the purpose of regime change has to be understood more in comparison to something like Iraq–a war of choice wherein toppling the regime would be relatively easy, but where the aftermath would be massively difficult.

The whole notion of “We need points on the board” is gross and simplistic. It ignores the costs, both in lives and dollars, of these kinds of adventures. It also ignores history utterly. Foreign policy, and especially military action, are not games.

Also, the notion that “Fix Venezuela and everybody else will know you are serious” is nonsense. First, “fixing” Venezuela isn’t going to be done is some quick fashion so that a ready example of US might will be on display. Second, the context of that statement was North Korea and Iran. I see no reason why US action in Venezuela would change the behavior of either the North Koreans or the Iranians.

Indeed, if the US were to stupidly engage itself in a military intervention in Venezuela, NK and Iran could sit back, relax, and watch the US expend energy and resources on that problem, rather than devoting energy to them.

I would note, this is Old School Neocon Graham, and is not a reflection of his current sycophancy for Trump.

To conclude let me note that I agree that Maduro needs to go. I just know that US military invention in this case will make matters worse, not better.


*This likely deserves its own post, but while the transformation of Germany, Japan, and Italy are clear examples of war leading to foes being turned into friendly, liberal democracies, the scale of that conflict was unique, and also predicated on a substantial amount of investment post-conflict by the US. Another example might be South Korea, but the reality is that post-war Korea was ruled by an authoritarian government for many decades before it became a democracy. Viet Nam, Iraq, and Afghanistan all did not live up to stated goals.

As noted in the post, our ability to change Cuba, whether through covert operations or significant economic pressure, has been a failure. We did manage to force, via funding a guerrilla war, a democratic transition in Nicaragua in 1990, but the fact that Daniel Ortega has been back in power for quite some time undercuts that “victory” (and the costs associated with it).

Even places where he helped foment coups, such as Iran in the 1950s, have often had long-term negative outcomes.

FILED UNDER: Latin America, National Security, US Politics, World Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Teve says:

    The Grenada example is not comparable. Without getting into the wisdom or politics of that invasion, it was a minor event against an almost non-existent foe. The risk was minimal, and the mission was limited. There is no comparison between that action and whatever might be contemplated in Venezuela.

    I don’t see how they’re much different, Venezuela is only 2,651 times the size of Grenada.

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  2. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    Is there some viable plan to invade Venezuela, specially considering that the Brazilian military would not want US troops in the Amazon, and that part of Netherlands is something like 100 miles to the Venezuelan cost?

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  3. @Andre Kenji de Sousa: In honesty, I don’t doubt the US’ ability to invade. Brazil might not like it (although, I can see a scenario in which Bolsonaro would be OK with it, TBH), but Brazlian discomfort would not be enough to stop the US were it inclined to act, and the Netherlands certainly wouldn’t.

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  4. gVOR08 says:

    Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.
    – Michael Ledeen, holder of the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute

    Worked so well in Iraq.

    If Graham wants “points on the board”, maybe for once we should try doing something we can actually do.

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  5. Michael Bailey says:

    Superb analysis

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  6. gVOR08 says:

    @Teve: The slam at the time, and not far from the truth, was that we soundly defeated two Cuban construction battalions.

    Yes, we put extreme sanctions on Cuba in the 50s to force out Fidel Castro. Who was, eventually, forced to hand off power. Forced by old age and ill health to hand off to his brother after becoming the longest tenure head of state in the world. We don’t learn. Well, Obama learned and initiated a more sensible relationship with Cuba. Which Trump promptly blew off, probably for no better reason than that Obama did it.

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  7. @Michael Bailey: Gracias.

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  8. @gVOR08:

    Forced by old age and ill health to hand off to his brother after becoming the longest tenure head of state in the world. We don’t learn.

    Indeed. In class I often count off the US presidents who served during Castro’s reign. It is a lengthy list.

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  9. Kathy says:

    Indeed: when was the last time US military-induced regime change resulted in an authoritarian regime becoming a peaceful, friendly democracy? The only cases I can think of are from WWII.*

    Panama. But there were special circumstances, like a century-long involvement in the country.

    Cubas is not a threat to the US, and hasn’t been for decades. Surely it’s time to stop pretending it is.

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  10. @Kathy: Panama is not a bad answer, but as you note: also a truly unique case.

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  11. michael reynolds says:

    There is a disconnect between what would be required to remake Venezuelan society (just as there was in the case of Iraq) and what the American people are willing to support and pay for. The cost, the commitment and the ruthlessness required for such a mission is completely absent. And this knock off the government and hope for the best strategy we’ve now pursued in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya, doesn’t seem to work really well.

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  12. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @gVOR08: So our foreign policy, according to the AEI, is that strength comes from being the biggest bully? Ooooooooookaaaaaaaaay! Good to know. (And food for thought [from a typo I started with])

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  13. MarkedMan says:

    the transformation of Germany, Japan, and Italy are clear examples of war leading to foes being turned into friendly, liberal democracies

    Even excluding the unique circumstances of WWII these are not comparable examples. In each of these cases, especially the first two, there existed a society that for generations had extensive governmental control and regimentation in virtually every facet of public life, coupled with a a very strong and numerous hierarchy of government officials to enforce compliance. The allies essentially decapitated the very top of the political leadership and substituted temporary but clearly empowered officials in their place.

    That infrastructure simply doesn’t exist in places like Venezuela, Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, etc, etc

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  14. Gustopher says:

    I’m hoping the Republicans remain divided as to what country they want to invade, Venezuela or Iran, and just never get around to actually invading anywhere.

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  15. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Without Roraima you’d have to enter Venezuela either from La Guajira in Colombia or make an amphibious landing. I don’t know how you could work with the logistics here, specially considering the mountains that separate Caracas and Barranquila from the interior.

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  16. Roger says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The cost, the commitment and the ruthlessness required for such a mission is completely absent.

    I have been opposed to American military adventures abroad for most of my life for two reasons: first, I thought it was morally wrong for any nation to rain death on a population because it disagreed with their leadership unless it genuinely was required for self defense, and was especially wrong for a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal; and, second, I thought that successfully imposing our will by force required a level of ruthlessness that Americans lacked. I was shamefully ignorant and embarrassingly naive.

    At least thirty percent of my fellow citizens would happily kick morality to the curb and personally apply the genital electrodes to teach those [wetbacks, sand ni%%ers, libtards—insert the enemy de jour] a lesson, and they’re supported by enough others who would avert their eyes, suck their teeth, and mournfully regret the necessity of such harsh measures to constitute an electoral majority. Lack of ruthlessness ain’t our problem. Our best hope is that we will be saved from inflicting atrocities by our lack of commitment and unwillingness to pay for another war.

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  17. @Andre Kenji de Sousa: I suspect (and again, I wholly oppose this) that any invasion plan would be a combo of air and sea. I cannot envision an invasion based out of any other Latin American country.

    Maybe Colombia under Uribe (and Duque is Uribe’s man), but even then not so sure.

    The assault would be directly on Caracas in any event.

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  18. Dick Gregory says:

    To call the “situation in Syria” the result of US régime change policies is to invert the truth. It is the result of Assad’s mass murder turning peaceful protesters into revolutionaries, and the US turning a blind eye to his crimes under President Obama, and even today only conducting token strikes when he uses chemical weapons.

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  19. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Caracas is surrounded by mountains from all sides. Cordillera Caribe separates the Venezuelan cities from the Atlantic Ocean. In theory, you could use missiles to destroy things on the ground, but I don’t know how you could put troops there.

    Maybe you could land troops in either Rio Chico or Higuerote, but even then it would be difficult to move these troops to anywhere else. It would require a mixture of Operation Overlord and the Barbarossa on the same time.

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  20. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: That may be the best we can hope for.

    ETA: “…unwillingness to pay for another war.” I take it that you don’t remember how we financed the current one then?

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  21. @Dick Gregory: I mention Syria (and put it in a parenthetical apart from the others) because it is an example of an attempt at regime change that has hardly been a predictable affair.

    I do not think there is any chance that direct US involvement would have improved the situation enough to make it worth the cost.

    I do agree it is different than the other cases.

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  22. michael reynolds says:

    @Roger:
    My position is that before we decide to go to war we should acknowledge that we are going to kill innocent people, that we are going to make widows and orphans and leave people mutilated, their bodies and minds shattered. We should go in knowing that all our promises to the soldiers will be discounted or even forgotten. We should go in knowing it will cost multiples of whatever the estimate is. And we should go in with the knowledge that we are generally speaking, wrong about the facts, and not very good at doing anything but blowing sht up.

    With all that in mind, we can go or not go.

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  23. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Graham is Wrong

    Way late to the conversation but I just have to add my $0.02 worth:

    SSDD

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