The decline of Venezuela finally came to a head on Wednesday when the opposition leader Juan Guaidó swore himself in as interim president, igniting a crisis of uncertainty about support for Guaidó among the Venezuelan military and eliciting the passionate support of the Trump administration. With the notable exception of Congressman Ro Khanna, a California Democrat, Washington appears to have forgotten the long and sordid history of US-backed regime change around the world.
In 1953 the US supported a coup against Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq, resulting in the installation of the pro-US Reza Shah Pahlavi. The abuses of the Shah ultimately led to the rise of today’s theocratic Islamic Republic of Iran, failing to benefit us or the Iranian people in any way. This coup initiated half a century of CIA involvement in regime change around the world, often with terrible unforeseen consequences. Our policy of toppling foreign governments is, at least in theory, meant to make the world a better place by spreading liberal democracy and capitalism. We were supposed to be spreading democracy and promoting global safety in 2003 when we took a month to topple Saddam Hussein and eight years dealing with the consequences. I doubt Iraq would be substantially worse off today had we left them alone a decade ago.
Intervention in foreign civil conflicts has an equally bad track record of making life worse for people around the world. Libya, Egypt, and Syria were all the subject of US-backed opposition movements, resulting in an authoritarian regime in Egypt, an ongoing civil war in Libya, and an ongoing civil war in Syria. Despite this history, Washington continues to use a combination of sanctions and political pressure to provoke further regime change around the world.
Regime change is simply a tool for undermining our global rivals by eliminating governments friendly to them, and to impute any noble intentions upon the actions of the Trump administration in Venezuela is unwise and unrealistic, especially when one considers Trump’s recent eagerness to invade Venezuela. Continued US support for Saudi Arabia, especially considering the horrors of their war in Yemen, completely exposes the Trump administration’s support for this coup as a strategic measure against our opponents abroad. To ignore what Washington is doing in Venezuela as simply promoting democracy is to risk the possibility of a long, deadly ground war in South America which would be a disastrous response to the already terrible crisis in Venezuela.
What is missing from the national conversation about Venezuela, and foreign policy generally, is a realistic and pragmatic non-interventionism. We only need look to countries like Mexico, which decided to respect Venezuelan sovereignty by leaving its internal affairs alone, for guidance. The civil conflict of another nation shouldn’t be the concern of the United States, any more than our domestic issues should worry the world. Considering he claims to consider America’s problems first, I wonder why Trump doesn’t understand the value of noninterventionist foreign policy.
Michael Sweeney is a peace activist with a BA in political science concentrated in international relations. He blogs primarily using his twitter feed.