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Venezuela & Afghanistan: The Intervention Issue

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“Afghanistan -> Welcome the talks.
5,000 troops to Colombia.”

Those two lines, caught this past week on John Bolton’s yellow legal pad, not only encapsulated the week’s headlines, it summarized the administration’s schizophrenic foreign policy. (Also, has no one else noticed that he has flying elephants on his tie?!) Let’s start with the first point.In Afghanistan, the U.S. has been in talks to end the 17-year war in that country, with the very people who prompted American intervention: the Taliban. (You remember those guys, yes? Charming.) On Monday, Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special representative to Afghanistan, announced “a draft framework” deal, brokered between American and Taliban officials — not with the Afghan government. The deal would guarantee that Afghan territory is never used by terrorists, such as Osama bin Laden. In exchange, the U.S. would fully withdraw its troops from the country. Yes, that’s the catch: American retreat.

U.S. intervention in Afghanistan in October 2001, in the aftermath of 9/11, had a purpose: to target Osama bin Laden, whom U.S. intelligence believed the Taliban harbored; remove the Taliban from power; and bring rule of law and democracy back to poverty-stricken Afghanistan. Seventeen years, several thousand casualties, and several trillion dollars later, the current occupants of the White House are eager to get out — even if the mission isn’t accomplished. Afghanistan is nowhere near rule of law or democracy, let alone basic security.

Meanwhile, ticking off Bolton’s second line about 5,000 troops to Colombia: That has to do with Venezuela. As we told you last week, in Venezuela, millions have taken to the street since January 23, demanding that Nicolás Maduro, the country’s leader, step down. Those protesters, along with the U.S. and many Latin American countries, say that the elections that took place last May were illegitimate, riddled with fraud and voter intimidation (and they’re probably right). They have backed Juan Guaidó, president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, who last week proclaimed himself an interim head of state and called for new elections.

There is no question that Venezuela desperately needs new leadership. Under Maduro, who succeeded Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s economy has gone from bad to worse, with inflation spiraling out of control and a currency that has become worthless. Food and medicine shortages have become the norm. Millions have fled the country. It is questionable, if not an outright bad idea that that new leadership should come through 5,000 troops in Colombia, aka force. If you have doubts, see Afghanistan.

U.S. foreign policy has a long legacy of intervention and “regime change.” That’s the subject of a separate screed (as much as I’d love to spend time doing it now). Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Chile in 1973, and, more recently, Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003, and Libya in 2011. In all those instances, the immediate goal may have been achieved, but in the longer term, they have backfired — resulting in greater insecurity and hostility not only toward America, but democracy and the Western liberal order.

As the current occupant of the White House considers his next steps in both Afghanistan and Venezuela, the rest of us must remain vigilant — and keep in mind what Trump uttered, repeatedly, at his inauguration: “America First.” Any leader who believes that the U.S. should only act in its narrow interests and not to fulfill its global obligations, along with its allies in the interest of world order and stability, is someone who is not likely interested in “democracy” or is eager to make the world safer, let alone save it.

On that: Julianne Smith writes about how Trump is doing lasting damage to America’s most important relationships. (Project Syndicate)

And listen to Heather Hurlburt on U.S. interventionism. (Brian Lehrer Show)


  • What’s really going on in Venezuela? FPI Fellow Fabiana Perera explains. (CNN)
  • Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro is facing increasing pressure to cede power by the international community, in what Mary Anastasia O’Grady calls a “pivotal moment in Latino history.” (WSJ)
  • No easy path for Venezuela’s oil in the struggle for a transition in power, says Amy Myers Jaffe. (CFR)
  • Could U.S. intervention in Venezuela be the lifeline Maduro needs? Lindsey O’Rourke explores. (Foreign Policy)
  • Venezuela needs strong institutions and the rule of law, not another charismatic strongman, writes Maryhen Jimenez Morales. (Al Jazeera)
  • How could a new government in Venezuela leverage the country’s vast oil resources to alleviate the humanitarian and economic crisis? Ellen Wald answers, with some scary prospects. (Bloomberg)
  • The U.S. and the Taliban have agreed on a peace deal framework, but the deal will almost certainly fail, says Barbara Walter. (Monkey Cage)
  • Fawzia Koofi ‏lays out a few ideas for the Afghan government and the U.S. to secure enduring peace in the country. (WSJ)
  • Afghan women fear peace with Taliban may mean war on them, write Rod Nordland, Fatima Faizi and Fahim Abed. (NYT)
  • Re-upping this piece by Anne-Marie Slaughter and FPI Fellow Ashley Jackson on the importance of having women at the table during peace talks. (Project Syndicate)

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