The Wall Street Journal has just published an important, disheartening story, U.S. Push to Oust Venezuela’s Maduro Marks First Shot in Plan to Reshape Latin America. The Trump Administration has apparently decided to embark on a large-scale interventionist campaign to reverse supposed undue influence of Russia, China, and Iran in Latin America. Venezuela and Cuba are the first targets, and Nicaragua is next on the list. John Bolton, in too obvious a nod to Bush’s “axis of evil” has called them the “troika of tyranny”.
One would think the fact that our “remake the world in our image” plans worked out so well in the Middle East might curb US adventurism. And it isn’t just that we made a mess of Iraq, failed to break Iran, and failed to install new regimes in Afghanistan and Syria. The New American Century types are deep in denial that this geopolitical tussle not only cost the US greatly in terms of treasure, but it also wound up considerably enhancing Russia’s standing.
Consider another bad outcome from US war-making in the Middle East: the rise of the radical right in Europe. American nation-breaking had produced a flood of refugees trying to enter Europe. In a misguided show of humanitarianism, European countries welcomed the over one million migrants that arrived in 2015, with the upsurge due mainly to the civil war in Syria. Angela Merkel in particular backed the idea of taking in the refugees, in part because German has a lower-than-replacement birth rate, and Syrian has a high level of public education. However, the EU members had patchy and generally poor programs for helping the migrants assimilate and find jobs. The result was what one hard core left wing political scientist who has spent a considerable amount of time in Germany calls “Merkelization”: a rise of nativist right wing parties like AfD in response to large-scale, poorly-managed migrant inflows.
Consider how this tendency might play into US nation-breaking near our borer. Many readers have pointed out that the “caravans” from Central America are heavily populated with people from countries like Honduras that our tender ministrations have made much worse. My colleague was warning of Merkelization of the US even before the US launched its coup attempt, that it is one thing to have an immigration process that is generous towards asylum-seekers, and quite another to have open borders when political and economic conditions in countries to the South are unlikely to get better.
Bernie Sanders was browbeaten into holding his tongue after pointing out early in his Presidential campaign that “open borders” is a Koch Brothers position, and that the top 10% professional class that has become the base of the Democratic party are now heavy employers of servants, in the form of nannies and yard men. When I was a kid, even the few times we lived in middle/upper middle class suburbs full of senior corporate managers and professionals, no one had servants. Men worked full time and wives did the housework; the most you’d see would be a housekeeper in once a week to give the wife some relief.
As Peter Beinart pointed out in The Atlantic in 2017:
In 2005, a left-leaning blogger wrote, “Illegal immigration wreaks havoc economically, socially, and culturally; makes a mockery of the rule of law; and is disgraceful just on basic fairness grounds alone.” In 2006, a liberal columnist wrote that “immigration reduces the wages of domestic workers who compete with immigrants” and that “the fiscal burden of low-wage immigrants is also pretty clear.” His conclusion: “We’ll need to reduce the inflow of low-skill immigrants.” That same year, a Democratic senator wrote, “When I see Mexican flags waved at proimmigration demonstrations, I sometimes feel a flush of patriotic resentment. When I’m forced to use a translator to communicate with the guy fixing my car, I feel a certain frustration.”
The blogger was Glenn Greenwald. The columnist was Paul Krugman. The senator was Barack Obama.
Prominent liberals didn’t oppose immigration a decade ago. Most acknowledged its benefits to America’s economy and culture. They supported a path to citizenship for the undocumented. Still, they routinely asserted that low-skilled immigrants depressed the wages of low-skilled American workers and strained America’s welfare state. And they were far more likely than liberals today are to acknowledge that, as Krugman put it, “immigration is an intensely painful topic … because it places basic principles in conflict.”…
A larger explanation [for the change] is political. Between 2008 and 2016, Democrats became more and more confident that the country’s growing Latino population gave the party an electoral edge….
Alongside pressure from pro-immigrant activists came pressure from corporate America, especially the Democrat-aligned tech industry, which uses the H-1B visa program to import workers….
According to a comprehensive new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, “Groups comparable to … immigrants in terms of their skill may experience a wage reduction as a result of immigration-induced increases in labor supply.” But academics sometimes de-emphasize this wage reduction because, like liberal journalists and politicians, they face pressures to support immigration.
Many of the immigration scholars regularly cited in the press have worked for, or received funding from, pro-immigration businesses and associations.
I suggest you read the Beinart piece in full; it makes clear that immigration is a thorny, complex problem, which is not something you’d infer from either party now.
So how does the “Merkelization” concern relate to the US plans to start nation-breaking in Latin America? Republicans may feel they can tolerate the risk of increased levels of refugees seeking to enter the US because it could work out in their favor. Right now. Trump looks screechy to anyone but true believers when he tries to whip up fears about border security. But what happens if the levels of arrivals were to increase three or four fold, as they did from 2014 to 2015 in Europe? You have realistic odds of a backlash with high migration levels overwhelming systems that already were doing only a so-so job of handling them.
Now to the main points of the Journal article. It stresses that Cuba and Venezuela have been aiding each other, with Venezuela donating oil to Cuba and Cuba providing support to Venezuela’s military and security forces.
Interestingly, it isn’t all gung ho for the Trump plans. It points out, for instance, that while the US has some international support for mixing it up in Venezuela, the US won’t find backers for getting aggressive with Cuba. Similarly:
The U.S. strategy carries major risks. If the administration’s support for opposition leader Juan Guaidó in Venezuela fails to unseat Mr. Maduro, or if it fails to weaken ties between Caracas and Havana, the desperate conditions in Venezuela could worsen and tether the U.S. more closely with the crisis. An estimated three million Venezuelans have fled their country.
Failure also would hand both countries a David-and-Goliath diplomatic victory and potentially strengthen the hand of China, Moscow and Iran in the region. The chief reason President Obama pursued an entente with Cuba was his administration’s conclusion that decades of tough measures had failed to topple the Castro regime to make way for a democratic alternative.
The article presents US allegations against a key Maduro official, including ties to Iran:
One of the Trump administration’s first actions after the election was to dust off an unused plan from the Obama administration to sanction Tareck El Aissami, Mr. Maduro’s vice president until last year:
U.S. law-enforcement officials say they have evidence Mr. Maduro directed state resources to create what they allege has become one of the most powerful international narco-trafficking operations in the world, and with links to Hezbollah, the Lebanese group designated by the U.S. as a terror organization.
Part of why U.S. officials express concern about Iran’s influence in the region is that Iran is a major backer of Hezbollah, and its South American operations are a significant source of cash…
Among the first officials to lay out options for the Trump administration was Fernando Cutz, a career USAID foreign-service officer, who had previously worked on the rapprochement with Cuba for the Obama administration…
Mr. Cutz laid out options to escalate pressure on the Maduro regime, including a financial strike at Venezuela’s oil exports. At first, the administration held back, fearing such an action would allow Mr. Maduro to blame the country’s woes on Washington.
Mr. Bolton, named national security adviser last year, has long taken a tough line on Cuba and Venezuela. He was later joined by Mr. Claver-Carone, who took over western hemispheric affairs at the National Security Council and shared Mr. Bolton’s view.
Mr. Claver-Carone, an adviser to the Trump campaign, rose to prominence in foreign-policy circles for running a blog called the Capitol Hill Cubans.
An archived edition of Capitol Hill Cubans described Mr. Claver-Carone as the co-founder and director of U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, a donation vehicle for House and Senate members. It was founded in 2003 “to promote an unconditional transition in Cuba to democracy, the rule of law and the free market.”
The PAC has raised and spent about $4.7 million since its inception. It contributed $20,000 to Mr. Rubio’s Senate campaign since June 2016 and gave Diaz-Balart’s campaign $5,000 in February 2018, records show.
Mr. Claver-Carone also led the nonprofit group Cuba Democracy Advocates from 2004 to 2017. And he ran a small lobbying firm called the Cuba Democracy Public Advocacy Corp for about 10 years, ending in 2016.
True believers in the driver’s seat is not a good sign.
The story describes in detail how the US perceived that, “The decision by two of Venezuela’s major opposition parties and past rivals—First Justice and Popular Will—to join forces a year ago provided for the first time a potential alternative to the Maduro regime.” The US opened up communications with Juan Guaidó. Over the New Year break, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with senior officials in Brazil and Colombia to develop plans. The US decided to leverage street protests at the time of the inauguration for Maduro’s second term, on January 10. Other plans:
The imposition of sanctions on Venezuela’s oil company, PdVSA, announced by the U.S. on Jan. 28, could be worth as much $11 billion in U.S. crude oil sales.
Among the next steps, U.S. officials said, are proposed new measures against Havana, such as restoring Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. That could hit financing and investments from countries outside the U.S. that now do business there, as well as the funds the country gets from international tourists.
Also on the list: new sanctions on Cuban officials and their networks and ending a waiver, known as Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, signed by every U.S. administration since its inception in 1996.
Ending the waiver would allow U.S. citizens to sue individuals and companies in U.S. courts for property seized by the Cuban government. Its impact would likely be to freeze billions of dollars worth of foreign investment in Cuba including hotels, golf courses and other projects.
The Trump administration is expected to announce new measures against Cuba in coming weeks, with the goal of crippling Havana’s ability to bolster the Maduro regime.
I had really hoped that Trump would tire of Bolton’s aggressiveness and need for the limelight, but that clearly isn’t happening fast enough, if at all. In the meantime, kicking small and poor countries who pose no threat is not the behavior of a confident superpower. And grabbing Venezuela’s oil because we can is theft. It’s been depressing to be an American for a very long time, and there’s no prospect for improvement.