A New US Failure in Venezuela: Are Mercenaries the Next Option?
The failure of the coup in Venezuela left Washington on its back foot. Words of strong support for opposition leader Juan Guaido and threats of sanctions only came after the coup appeared to fall apart.
Secretary of State Pompeo appeared on television and said the US hasn’t ruled out military intervention, although they prefer a peaceful transition.
National Security Advisor Bolton also threatened action. The United States will not allow Russia to take over a Western Hemisphere country through “their surrogates, the Cubans,” Bolton said Wednesday.
“That is why President Trump suggested that if the Cubans don’t get off the body politic in Venezuela they will [suffer] consequence of their own,” Bolton told Fox News’ “Fox & Friends.” “It is a struggle by the people of Venezuela to get control of their government, but it is also a struggle to free themselves from the colonizers from Cuba.”
Fox anchor Brian Kilmeade asked Bolton if Trump had spoken to Putin, or if Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had spoken with his counterpart, Russian Secretary of State Sergey Lavrov, Bolton replied “a call, for Mike, is scheduled for [Wednesday].”
Not everyone in America was supporting Guaido. Former Republican congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul warned, “The big danger is a hard-war breaking out…it could be a guerrilla war or something like that.”
Paul also blasted U.S. officials for supporting Guaido and his efforts to seize power in Venezuela while denouncing with indignation the Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
“I think it’s pure hypocrisy for us to think that we are doing [the interference in Venezuela] and we are against government interference. We love it, except when we don’t.”
Nor does it appear that the U.S. military is gearing up for action in Venezuela.
The U.S. military is preparing for the unrest in Venezuela, but that does not include direct intervention in the political process, the U.S. Southern Command chief says.
The top officer for operations in South America pushed back Wednesday against Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s suggestions earlier in the day that the White House is considering military options to expedite the overthrow of the embattled Maduro regime in Venezuela.
“Our leadership’s been clear,” U.S. Southern Command chief Navy Adm. Craig Faller told the House Armed Services Committee. “It has to be, should be, a democratic transition.”
The military is preparing for non-combat options, he said, amid the widespread civil unrest in the oil-rich Latin American nation as opposition leader Guaido continues his calls for public support for his claims on the presidency.
If the U.S. options are limited to withdrawing foreign nationals and humanitarian assistance, it leaves “acting president” Guaido few attractive options.
If, as it appears, some units did defect to Guaido, there is the possibility of an insurgency campaign. Maduro has made it clear he is not in a forgiving mood and troops and units that defected have few options – either leaving the country or fighting.
If the anti-Maduro forces can retreat with equipment and supplies, they could take and hold some ground in a rural part of Venezuela. Then, with the support of Western intelligence agencies like the CIA, they could continue to pressure Maduro.
The problem with this option is that it appears that the Russians and other countries are committed to keeping Maduro in power. A former U.S. military analyst told TTM, “My view is that Russia has invested a lot economically in Venezuela and they know that they have little hope of recouping it if Maduro loses power.”
Russia is also coming off a win against the US in Syria. Russia stood behind President Assad despite the West’s desire to overthrow him. In return, Russia won prestige and military bases for its steadfast support.
If Russia can “stay the course” in Venezuela, it could gain another foothold in the Americas.
Another advantage for Russia is Guaido, who is the recognized head of Venezuela by the West. Overthrowing a government takes ruthlessness and it appears that Guaido seems more than willing to sit back and let the Western powers do the hard work.
A truly committed leader would be importing arms from friendly governments, training civilians to be rebels, and acquiring a base in the country.
Imagine what could have happened if the thousands of protestors heading towards downtown Caracas were armed with rifles.
Guaido’s apparent inability to spark a revolution in his country makes the options for the US more difficult, especially if they have eschewed a military response.
Given the problems the U.S. is facing on its southern border with immigrants from Central and South America, a festering political crisis in Venezuela would only increase the number of refugees and migrants heading across the border. Would the U.S. refuse anti-Maduro refugees’ entrance, even though they supported an American effort to overthrow Maduro?
Then, there is the traditional Monroe Doctrine, which holds that the U.S. considers European interference in the Americas a threat.
The CIA could provide more support to the rebels, although it is hard to imagine that they haven’t done this already.
The U.S. could support local military forces like Colombia and Brazil in hopes that they can support and train Venezuelan rebels. But there is the question of how competent these forces are. It is likely that any money spent on Brazil and Colombia may be wasted.
There is also the mercenary option. There are reports that former Blackwater head Erik Prince has been pitching a plan to “privatize” the Venezuelan coup. Although he was forced to sell Blackwater (now Academi), he has revived his mercenary empire in China in the form of Frontier Services Group (FSG).
According to Reuters, “The two sources with direct knowledge of Prince’s pitch said it calls for starting with intelligence operations and later deploying 4,000 to 5,000soldiers-for-hire from Columbia and other Latin American nations to conduct combat and stabilization operations.”
It is reported by Reuters that neither the White House nor Guaido has entertained the proposal.
Prince has also called for using mercenaries in Afghanistan and Syria.
Prince has said that “a dynamic event” is needed to break the stalemate that has existed since January, when Guaido was named interim president. Obviously, the current coup isn’t “dynamic” enough.
But employing mercenaries is politically dangerous and there is the possibility that these mercenaries from South America could commit an atrocity that would embarrass the U.S. and destroy any chance of ousting Maduro.
The likeliest option would be sending in a small number of U.S. Special forces to train and arm the rebels. The problem is that U.S. Special Forces are already stretched thin from their worldwide deployments.
According to analysts in Washington to whom TTM has consulted, the problem remains the West’s support for Guaido. He appears to be unable to inspire Venezuelans enough that they will spill out in the streets in force and overthrow Maduro.
Some other U.S. advocates of regime change in Venezuela are suggesting in private circles that if the U.S. is really committed to toppling Maduro, they may want to consider replacing Guaido, who, on the global chessboard, appears to be as powerful as a pawn, and replacing him with someone who has the political power of the queen.