Daniel Davis: US troops should stay out of Venezuela – military intervention would fail

Disputed Venezuelan socialist President Nicolas Maduro appeared firmly in control of the nation Thursday, despite calls from opposition leader Juan Guaidó for a military uprising and a general strike to force Maduro from power.

Violence that erupted Tuesday and continued Wednesday – when thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets to demand that Maduro relinquish power and were met by security forces firing tear gas – largely ended Thursday, with relative calm restored in the nation’s capital of Caracas.

The U.S. and over 50 other countries have recognized Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president and are calling on Maduro to step down. But with military and economic support from allies Russia and Cuba, Maduro shows no signs of giving up the presidency.


What should the United States do now?

the last thing America should do is involve itself – especially militarily – in Venezuela’s violent, chaotic political crisis and humanitarian disaster. Yet disturbing early signs from Washington indicate that’s exactly what the Trump administration is threatening to do.

If we attempt to pick a winner in the political crisis now unfolding in Caracas, our chances of failure are so high as to be virtually guaranteed.

As a nation concerned with freedom, democracy, and the well-being of the Venezuelan people, the U.S. should studiously avoid getting sucked into yet another regime-change quagmire and above all keep American troops out of Venezuela.

Under both Republican and Democratic presidents, America’s track record of trying to impose our will on the political systems of other countries over the past 60-plus years has been an unqualified, abysmal failure.

If we attempt to pick a winner in the political crisis now unfolding in Caracas, our chances of failure are so high as to be virtually guaranteed. A quick refresher on the U.S. history of trying to take sides when civil strife breaks out in other countries should temper our enthusiasm to deepen our involvement in Venezuela.

Here’s a list of some of our failed interventions:

In 1953 in Iran, the CIA helped orchestrate a coup of the democratically elected leader of the nation and installed Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as the shah of Iran – the last king to rule the country. He proved to be incurably corrupt, and his oppression of the Iranian people laid the foundation for the rise of Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini and a popular revolution that overthrew the shah in 1979. The clerical regime the rules the self-proclaimed Islamic Republic remains a menace in the Middle East to this day.

In 1963 in South Vietnam, senior U.S. officials helped support a coup of the democratically elected leader of the nation because we didn’t like his policies. The coup was successful, yet the successor government was just as corrupt and contributed to that side’s loss in the Vietnam War, unifying the country under the communist government that had previously ruled only North Vietnam.

In 1963 in Cuba, U.S. military and CIA personnel helped a group of Cuban exiles attempt a coup against communist leader Fidel Castro. The coup failed in the infamous Bay of Pigs invasion. Castro then successfully silenced all opposition and held onto unchecked power for the next four decades. His brother now rules.

In 2001 in Afghanistan, American militarily forces ousted the Taliban Islamist extremist regime and set up a new regime of our choosing. The new government has proven corrupt and remains incapable of effectively governing its people or defeating the Taliban insurgency. We’ve been fighting alongside our Afghan allies for 18 years, with no end in sight.

In 2003 in Iraq, the U.S. deposed dictator Saddam Hussein and began a long war. Iraq remains a volatile place today, more closely aligned with Iran than the U.S.

In 2011 in Libya, America facilitated the overthrow of brutal dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Libya remains in a civil war, with two governments claiming sovereignty.  Violence, death and chaos define the nation’s politics.

Can you detect a pattern here?

There’s no reason to believe U.S. military intervention in Venezuela would fare any better than our past interventions since the 1950s.

Shortly after Guaidó’s supporters began to protest Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that the United States “fully supports” Guaidó’s actions.

It’s not clear if Pompeo meant the U.S. was prepared to provide military support – something that National Security Adviser John Bolton has previously hinted was possible.

Sending American troops into Venezuela would put us in dangerous territory. And if we take non-military actions against the Maduro regime we may be setting many Venezuelans up for tragedy.

Under no circumstances should President Trump listen to his more hawkish advisers and give any serious consideration to sending U.S. military personnel to fight for one side in a Venezuelan civil war. It is a losing proposition with virtually no chance of a positive outcome, either for Guaidó’s supporters or for the American people.

And if the calls by the Trump administration officials are just messaging and they’re not seriously considering military action, that is also dangerous and ill-advised.

In the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm in mid-1991, President George H.W. Bush strongly encouraged Shiite Muslims and Kurds to rise up and overthrow Saddam Hussein. Many Iraqis at the time believed that if they rose up, Bush would send in the U.S. military to support them. They were fatally mistaken.

I was part of U.S. Army forces in southern Iraq at the time. We watched in horror as Sunnis began to riot in the city of An-Nasiriya when Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard troops began slaughtering the people. We wanted badly to attack the Iraqi troops and defend the civilians, but President Bush did not allow the military to respond. He was rightly afraid of getting drawn into a protracted war.

If President Trump similarly does not intend to insert our troops into a Venezuelan civil war, he should make that clear. Otherwise, Guaidó and his supporters may believe U.S. forces are coming to take on Maduro militarily – and then be at risk of suffering a slaughter similar to the Shiites in Iraq rebelling against Saddam Hussein.

It is time for a hard-nosed, realistic view of a very bad set of circumstances in Venezuela. President Trump’s actions have to be based on a rational, logical assessment of American interests and how they would be affected by the range of potential and likely outcomes.

In virtually no rational scenario can our country benefit by the employment of any lethal military power in Venezuela.


With no security concerns and no direct interests at stake, the best thing the United States can do for the people of Venezuela – and for Americans – is to forget about regime change, help relieve the humanitarian crisis, encourage all parties to resolve their disputes according to their own laws and constitution, and engage in regional diplomacy with other like-minded countries.

There is no “quick fix” for Venezuela’s problems. Any use of the American military, regardless of how much it may satisfy a yearning to “do something,” will turn a crisis into a tragedy and likely plunge the U.S. into another endless nation-building mistake.