From Consortium News
Ray McGovern former CIA analyst for 27 years, and VIPS activist
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MEMORANDUM FOR: The President
FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)
SUBJECT: Avoiding War with Russia over Venezuela
Your Administration's policies regarding Venezuela appear to be on a slippery slope that could take us toward war in Venezuela and military confrontation with Russia. As former intelligence officers and other national security practitioners with many decades of experience, we urge you not to let yourself be egged on into taking potentially catastrophic military action in response to civil unrest in Venezuela or Russian activities in the Western Hemisphere. With the recent arrival of two transport aircraft and enduring political support for the government of Venezuela, the Russians are far from crossing any "red line" emanating from the 1823 Monroe Doctrine.
Unfulfilled Objectives in Venezuela
Inside Venezuela, U.S. actions have failed to do more than plunge the country into deeper crisis, cause greater human suffering, and increase the prospects of violence on a national scale. President Maduro's mishandling of the economy and authoritarian reactions to provocations are impossible to defend, but they result in part from the fact that he has been under siege since he was first elected in 2013 and has faced sanctions aimed ultimately at removing him from office. In our view, the advice you've received from your top advisers Florida Senator Marco Rubio, National Security Adviser John Bolton, Special Representative Elliott Abrams, and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo was, and apparently continues to be wrong.
- Recognition of Venezuelan National Assembly President Juan Guaidó as "interim president" did not prompt the military to rise up against President Maduro. Neither did attacking the officer corps as merely corrupt opportunists and drug-traffickers enriched through loyalty to former President Cha'vez and Maduro, nor did repeatedly threatening them with harsher sanctions. Those actions reflected a fundamental misunderstanding about the Venezuelan military, which has never been free of corruption and political compromise but has also never been so totally isolated from the Venezuelan people that it hasn't felt their suffering. U.S. policies incorrectly assumed that the officers while probably fed up with Maduro's shortcomings would support Guaidó despite his faction's commitment to dismantle Chavismo, which most officers believe brought historically necessary changes to the country, including enfranchisement of the poor.
Similarly, your Administration's repeated hints at military intervention have been counterproductive to your regime-change objectives. Your policy and intelligence advisers were correct in interpreting the disparate polling data showing popular support for Guaidó as actually being support for the U.S. to extricate the country from its crisis the National Assembly President was a political unknown until the United States and others recognized his claim to the Presidency but your team showed a lack of understanding of Venezuelan nationalism. Venezuelans do not welcome the destruction that would be caused by U.S. military attack; they recall the death toll of Operation Just Cause, when the United States killed more than 3,000 Panamanians (by its own count) to remove one corrupt authoritarian, Manuel Noriega. Threats of invasion have pushed people to circle around Maduro, however reluctantly, not reject him.
- Your Administration's strategy of punishing the Venezuelan people, including apparently knocking out their electricity, seems based on the false assumption that humanitarian crisis will prompt a coup to remove Maduro. In fact, the U.S. sanctions have allowed Maduro to shift blame from his own failings to U.S. malice and it has left Guaidó, whom your advisers portray as the moral equivalent of our Founders, looking like a sell-out to Yankee imperialists at the cost of the Venezuelan people's health and welfare and magnified civil disorder.
Lost Opportunity for Diplomacy
Senator Rubio, Mr. Bolton, Mr. Abrams, and Mr. Pompeo have also squandered a formidable moment to build on common values with allies in Latin America and Europe. Even though most Latin Americans find your aides' public assertion that the Monroe Doctrine is alive and well to be insulting, the right-leaning Presidents of most of South and Central America rallied with you to support Guaidó's self-proclamation. But Guaidó's lack of leadership -- he appears totally scripted by U.S. Government agencies -- his inflexibility on negotiations, his open call for U.S. military intervention, and your own Administration's dangling threat of war are rapidly alienating all but the most subservient to U.S. policy dictates. Negotiation proposals, such as those being developed by the International Contact Group, are gaining momentum.
Internationalizing the Conflict
National Security Adviser Bolton and others have sought to internationalize the Venezuela issue since before Guaidó's proclamation. Bolton's reference to a "Troika of Tyranny" in November which he called "a triangle of terror stretching from Havana to Caracas to Managua" and "sordid cradle of communism in the Western Hemisphere" was a veiled Cold War-era swipe at Russia and China. Mr. Bolton, Senator Rubio, and other advisers have made clear on numerous occasions that the overthrow of President Maduro would be just the first stage in efforts to eliminate the current governments of the "Troika" and "Communist influence" in the Western Hemisphere.
- They have repeatedly asserted that Cuban advisers have been crucial to the Maduro government's survival without providing evidence. Indeed, the reportedly "hundreds" of Venezuelan military defectors, including many managed by U.S. agencies, have not provided even credible hearsay evidence that Cubans are doing more than providing routine assistance. In addition, the threats coming out of Washington have preempted any willingness that Cuba might have had to contribute to a regional solution to the Venezuelan crisis as it has in similar situations, such as Colombia's recent peace process, the Angola peace process in 1989-90, and the Central American negotiations in the early 1990s.
Provocative Rhetoric about Russia
Most dangerous, however, are aggressive statements about Russia's engagement with Venezuela. Russian oil companies, particular Rosneft, have long been in Venezuela bailing out the Venezuelan petroleum company (PDVSA) as its mismanagement and falling oil prices have caused production and revenues to plummet. Most long-term observers believe Rosneft's decisions, including throwing good money after bad, have been motivated by business calculations, without a particularly ideological objective.