Not too far from here, in Venezuela, there is a genuine crisis of leadership that the United States is poised to resolve. President Nicolas Maduro, who still holds the title depending on who you ask, is a Cuban/Russian asset, handpicked by his late and unlamented predecessor, Hugo Chavez President Juan Guaidó, meanwhile, is friendly to the United States. He has already made what one could call a state visit to Florida, where Republicans and Democrats alike stand with him (and with “freedom” in Venezuela). The American military, at this writing, is on standby. One presumes that covert ops are happening already, of course, and have been for a long time.
Saber rattling from Florida leaders? Well, of course. Senator Rick Scott was the first to say the military may have a public role here, urging the White House to put assets in place to protect “freedom and democracy in Venezuela.”
“We are going to have a Syria if we don’t take this seriously,” Scott said last week. He has been floating the military option for weeks, but events are only now catching up.
It’s worth noting how comfortable Scott is in the foreign policy space. During his term as governor, eight years of gaggles on state issues seemed to come back to “jobs, jobs, jobs.” He spent most of his campaign for Senate playing keep-away from the press, with Hurricane Michael recovery efforts offering him all the earned media he could want on an uncontroversial topic.
One could argue that, as governor, Scott had anticipated the Venezuelan crisis. He moved to end state contracts with the socialist regime, and while here in Jacksonville in July 2017, he conferred with Goldman Sachs, urging disinvestment in Venezuela as long as Maduro is President.
Scott sought earned media for his anti-Maduro stance for a while, and now he’s finally getting it, where he serves up the kinds of quotes we haven’t heard in almost two decades.
“There are some who will say this isn’t our fight, that the millions of Venezuelans suffering 2,000 miles away are not our concern,” Scott said last month to the American Enterprise Institute.
“Some have criticized the mere mention of the crisis in Venezuela by those like myself as American imperialism or a U.S.-backed coup. I completely reject that,” Scott said.
Does that sound familiar? It’s the same kind of Churchillian rhetoric used to sell the wars in the Middle East when Dubya was president. There are presumptions from then that apply to now. When America invaded Iraq in 2003, the messaging was that the war would be over in weeks, and that forces would be greeted as “liberators.” Did that strictly hold true? The question answers itself.
Scott’s Senate colleague, Marco Rubio, likewise wants action. “This is the moment for those military officers in Venezuela to fulfill their constitutional oath and defend the legitimate interim President [Guaidó] in this effort to restore democracy,” he tweeted last week.
“You can write history in the hours and days ahead. After years of suffering freedom is waiting for people of Venezuela. Do not let them take this opportunity from you. Now is the moment to take to the streets in support of your legitimate constitutional government. Do not allow this moment to slip away. It may not come again,” Rubio urged.
There has been a narrative gap between the version of this we see in the United States and what the rest of the world sees. Especially here in Florida, where Venezuelan expats hold sway south of this paper’s distribution footprint, we are presented only with the Manichean “freedom fighter” narrative.
There is another case to be made. Venezuela and its patron, Cuba, are the two gravest threats to America’s hemispheric dominance. They represent staging areas for Russia, China and potentially other powers that want to interfere in our sphere of influence as we do theirs. The case for Venezuelan military action, ultimately, is predicated on the zero-sum game that is foreign policy in the post-Indispensable Nation world.
The Iraq and Afghanistan theaters ended up validating what Vice President Dick Cheney predicted in an interview: decades of battles in the shadows, a generational struggle.
If we embark on another crusade like this—and we could be—it would be prudent in terms of both politics and policy to lay out the stakes: It may cost a few trillion. It may take a decade or two. And it may escalate, if Russia provokes American forces. It’s not a simple operation.
We have bet on American hegemony since the end of World War II. That has come at the expense of other countries; some of them now sense our weakness and are poised to exploit it.
The question now: do we have leaders who can level with us about the stakes?