With his declaration Jan. 23 that Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro is an “illegitimate” ruler and opposition leader Juan Guaidó is the rightful president of Venezuela, President Trump has – for the fifth time in 18 years – committed the U.S. to regime change against a country that did not attack us, never threatened us, and lacks both the means and motivation to do so.
If the Russian Federation had done the same – plotting to overthrow a government on its own doorstep and leaving open the possibility of invasion – the U.S. would decry its adversary as a rogue regime.
Yet when the U.S. proclaims a foreign leader illegitimate, seeks to deny a population access to basic goods, and incessantly agitates for military intervention in its own backyard – with officials declaring “all options are on the table” – the world has no right to complain.
After just two years in office, Trump has abandoned his doctrine of America First sovereignty and embraced the very same imperial hubris that makes our leaders think they can force the Chinese from the South China Sea, the Persians from the Persian Gulf, and Afghan warlords from the heart of Afghanistan.
And for at least the fifth time in the 21st century, the U.S. has become a rogue state.
We should have learned the lessons of regime change from our misadventure in Afghanistan, where after 17 years of war, $2.5 trillion, and nearly as many American lives as perished on 9/11, the Taliban control more territory than at any point since 2001.
We should have learned from Iraq, where a manufactured pretext for war led the U.S. to a months-long operation to unseat Saddam Hussein, followed by an ongoing 15-year war against the insurgency that flourished in his place.
We should have learned from Libya, where our intervention has created a failed state and spread instability across the region, while refugee flows from the country create a crisis on the shores of Europe.
And we should have learned from Syria, where our efforts at regime change have made few tangible impacts besides lengthening the war, maximizing casualties, and forcing Assad to seek help from Russia and Iran.
Like the latter, Venezuela’s Maduro has benefactors abroad who are unwilling to see their ally removed. And like the former three, there exists no real alternative to Maduro’s government. The opposition has nominated an interim leader in the young Guaidó, but it remains heavily splintered and lacks support from Venezuela’s military brass.
As usual, the U.S. administration has no real plan for the day after the regime is brought down. Merely, they say, we must spread freedom and democracy to every nation.
That Wilsonian vision drives us to work with the borderline fascist president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, in supporting Venezuela’s coup d’état: We must liberate the country in the same way we liberated a million people from their lives in our past efforts.
With that track record, we would be well advised to abandon our role of making the world safe for democracy and instead focus on making freedom and democracy safe for the world.
This column was submitted for consideration in The Forum's search for "the next great columnist."