Don’t Escalate in Venezuela for the Sake of Bogus ‘Credibility’

Don’t Escalate in Venezuela for the Sake of Bogus ‘Credibility’

The Wall Street Journal reminds us that “credibility” arguments are stupid and dangerous:

Mr. Trump’s credibility is now on the line. If he doesn’t want to be humiliated in our own hemisphere, he needs a strategy to get Russia and Mr. Maduro out of power in Caracas.

It is always preferable for presidents to avoid making reckless threats against other governments, but it is insane to follow through on such threats simply to preserve one’s “credibility.” When Trump declared that Russia “has to get out” of Venezuela earlier this week, I said it was a silly and dangerous ultimatum, and the reason it is so dangerous is that hawks are quick to seize on any presidential utterance as a commitment to intervene. Russia’s small military presence in Venezuela is inconsequential as far as the U.S. is concerned, and the Trump administration is making it our business because they have wrongly chosen to interfere in Venezuelan affairs in an attempt to overthrow the current government. The original decision to interfere was the wrong one two months ago, and threatening to escalate our involvement is the wrong move now.

Interfering in Venezuela’s political crisis was bound to put the U.S. in a position where it would eventually face these demands to escalate or risk “humiliation.” The wise course of action now is to ignore those demands and back down from foolish public statements that the president should never have made. Better that Trump be a little bit “humiliated” for shooting his mouth off again than that the U.S. is stuck vindicating his arrogant bluster by assuming risks and costs that have nothing to do with American security.

Trump doesn’t need a strategy “to get Russia and Mr. Maduro out of power in Caracas.” He needs to give up on the misguided quest for regime change and instead support regional diplomatic efforts to mediate between the rival camps. The longer that the standoff continues, the worse it will be for the population. It doesn’t appear that Maduro is going anywhere soon:

His staying power has led diplomats, foreign leaders and some Washington officials to reassess their timelines and consider that, barring military action, Maduro may be able to follow in the footsteps of other authoritarian leaders who have held onto power despite crushing sanctions.

“Maduro has definitely shown he is more resilient than what people thought. That’s a fact,” said one diplomat from Latin America, who was unauthorized to speak publicly about the regional strategy. “If you think about what the administration said about ‘this is the end, this is the end,’ and yet Maduro is still there.”

The Trump administration’s pursuit of regime change in Venezuela was a mistake, but there is still a chance to reverse course and stop adding to the country’s misery. At the very least, it should avoid further escalation for the sake of bogus “credibility.”

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