(First published Strategic Culture Foundation
Let us contemplate what John Bolton, quondam National Security Advisor to US President Trump, had in mind for “restoring democracy” to Venezuela. We are familiar with the first phase: 1) accusations, 2) threats, 3) stunts, 4) “world community” recognition, 5) appeals for coup, 6) sanctions.
1) You know, Venezuela is one of the three countries I call the troika of tyranny. It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies really invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela. It’d be good for the people of Venezuela. It’d be good for the people of the United States. (January 2019)
2) All options are on the table. (January 2019)
3) After diverting aid needed badly by Venezuelans to Cuba last week (100 tons), and giving away billions of the Venezuelan people’s wealth to Cuba – now Maduro seeks aid from Cuba and China. All while denying the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis and rejecting aid at the border. (February 2019)
4) National Security Adviser John Bolton said on April 30, 2019 that what’s happening “is clearly not a coup” because the U.S. and many other countries recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president. (April 2019)
5) The FANB [Venezuelan military] must protect the Constitution and the Venezuelan people. It should stand by the National Assembly and the legitimate institutions against the usurpation of democracy. The United States stands with the people of Venezuela. (April 2019)
6) Bolton said the U.S. is “sending a signal to third parties that want to do business with the Maduro regime: proceed with extreme caution. There is no need to risk your business interests with the United States for the purposes of profiting from a corrupt and dying regime.” (August 2019)
Despite “corrupt and dying”, Maduro was still in power, still supported by the population, the “burning aid” stunt failed (when you’ve lost even the NYT…) and the Venezuelan military remains loyal. (Irony alert! Washington’s sanctions on Venezuela increased Russian oil exports to the USA and Europe!)
What would Bolton have wanted to do next? (Easy speculation – we’ve seen it before.) A “coalition of the willing” (no matter how artificial), US aircraft attack key targets with “precision” “surgical” strikes; (more strikes added until, à la Serbia, bombing random bridges 200 kilometres away from the supposed target). The bombing and destruction would eventually force Maduro to leave. Enter the “liberators”, the “legitimate National Assembly” takes power, the “world community” recognises “Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president”. With “democracy restored” and “freedom returned” the next stage: “American oil companies really invest[ing] in and produce[ing] the oil capabilities in Venezuela“, privatisation and IMF austerity. Happiness all round: “good for the people of Venezuela… good for the people of the United States”. Is Maduro still resisting in the hills and jungles? A surge or two will take care of that; there’s plenty of light at the end of the tunnel and the obedient corporate media will bleat that Maduro will soon be gone: March, April, May, May again, August, September (The Latin America version of the Assad Must Go Curse.)
That would have been Venezuela’s fate with Bolton fully turned on. But Bolton has been turned off. Maduro is still in Caracas and the story has tip-toed off the front pages. Although Hollywood leaps to obey its Master’s Voice and Jack Ryan will save us from a nuclear-armed Venezuela.
The war party is accustomed to blame its quagmires on someone else. Iraq was a success until Obama spoiled it:
because Hillary Clinton failed to renegotiate a status of forces agreement that would have allowed some American combat troops to remain in Iraq and secure the hard-fought gains the American soldier had won by 2009, [the Islamic State] was able to be literally conjured up out of the desert.
Afghanistan likewise: Obama’s Failed Legacy in Afghanistan. Libya is far down the memory hole: an MSNBC special on Libya as the gateway of migrants to Europe never uses the word “NATO”.
To tell the story of Libya’s escalating migration crisis, one must weave together the threads of instability left behind by a toppled dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, and the power vacuum filled by rivaling factions vying to take his place.
But Qaddafi didn’t just topple in a high wind, earthquake or other random phenomenon: NATO decided to topple him and did so – “We came, we saw, he died” cackled one of the architects. But MSNBC wants us to believe that the destruction was an inexplicable random event that nobody could have foreseen. And so, helped by the corporate news media’s goodthink, the war party slithers away from responsibility: Qaddafi “toppled”, we have a problem; nothing to do with us, or NATO, or Hillary. Bad stuff just happens. “The story of how Kosovo hosted an illegal market in human organs began to unfold today in a district court in the capital, Pristina” is so distant in time that only fringe websites talk about it. As to the Ukrainian disaster, news is starting to leak through the complacency membrane: Canadian officials honour Nazi collaborators in Ukraine, angering Jewish groups, Biden involvement, blowback.
With their excuses and deniability clutched in their hands, knowing the complaisant news media will back them up (CNN: Biden and Ukraine is a conspiracy theory), the war party rolls along. The wars start well, given the US military’s immense destructive power, and then bog down: US war-fighting doctrine is hard-wired for failure. Bolton’s Venezuela adventure, had it advanced to the bombing phase, would also have been pimped as a “success” – Guaidó inauguration, selected interviews, toppling of statues and the rest of the package. But Maduro and his supporters would not have given up and there’d be years of patrolling, “precision” bombing (eventually indistinguishable from “carpet bombing” – see Raqqa), door kicking, IEDs, ambushes, training failures. Iraq and Afghanistan again. They, in their turn, having repeated Vietnam.
But Bolton’s Excellent Adventure never got to that point because Trump would not sign off on the bombing stage and so his scheme failed in plain sight. Let us remember what Trump said while he was campaigning: everyone would be better off had President Bush taken a day at the beach rather than invade Iraq; the “six trillion dollars” spent in the Middle East would have been better spent on infrastructure in the USA; NATO is obsolete and the USA pays a disproportionate share; it would better to get along with Russia than not. Bolton, on the other hand, was all in favour of the Iraq war, believed one more war in the Middle East would have been good, thought NATO was great, and Russia terrible. (There’s a rumour that Trump was considering easing the failed Iran pressure and Bolton’s objections led to his firing.)
So why did he appoint Bolton in the first place? A theory: Keep you friends close but your enemies closer. The late Justin Raimondo agrees: “Instead of taking on the neocons directly, Trump embraces them – and we can see the knife go in as this whole scenario plays out.” When it’s clear that everything Bolton had a hand in was a spectacular flop, he’s tossed out of the tent with the knife in his back.
But Venezuela was not Bolton’s only failure in plain sight: his “maximum pressure” strategy against Iran turned out to be much feebler than Tehran’s “maximum”: the strike on Saudi oil production. Note that, despite billions of dollars of weapons, air defence, radars and the like, neither Riyadh nor Washington has any idea of where the attack came from. Whether Iran did it directly, indirectly, at a distance, supplied some or all of the weapons, was entirely uninvolved or any other possibility you can think of doesn’t really matter: it’s checkmate. Lots of entities in the region are friendly to Tehran and so we can know that:
The attack was an amuse-bouche for what Iran
and its many allies could do
if Washington attacked it.
Another Bolton failure. Read his How to Get Out of the Iran Nuclear Deal and note that he assumes that Tehran has no response. The greatest blind spot of the war party is its assumption that Washington always has the initiative and that its targets can only feebly squirm. But Tehran has been on Washington’s hit list for four decades and it hasn’t wasted that time. A war with Iran will, I am certain, be the Last War for the Imperium Americanum because Iran will stop the oil and the world economy will stagger and probably fall. It has outwitted Washington every step of the way. If Trump really is a reader of Sun Tzu, he should reflect on “If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle“. The war party overestimates US power and underestimates the enemy’s will. Succumbs.
Returning to Raimondo’s theory, Trump is now in a position to tell the war party “see, we did what you told us to and it was a complete failure”. Will he appoint people in tune with his campaign thoughts? Apparently not, Bolton’s replacement is more of the same: “peace through strength”, US military dangerously weak, Obama “emboldened our adversaries and disheartened our allies” and the rest of the unreflective claptrap.
This is all part of the Mystery of Donald Trump: on the one hand he surrounds himself with the war party, on the other he hasn’t started any wars. (Bolton was fired in Trump’s day 963; by contrast Obama attacked Libya on his day 788 and called for Assad’s departure on day 940.)
But the war party has painted him into several corners.
(How can he get out of the corner? Easy – just blame his “bad advisors” and do it. The Trump haters won’t think any the worse of him and the rest of us will be glad to step away from the endless war and give him credit for deviousness in a good cause. Or, à la Macron’s suggestion, he can surrender while pretending to have won.)