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Why Are Leading Democrats Supporting Trump on Venezuela?

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Ramping up war fever against Iran, Donald Trump seems to have jerked his erratic attention span away from his campaign to overthrow Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro. The embarrassing fiasco of pretender Juan Guaidó’s failed coup last month temporarily frustrated Trump’s search for an imperial triumph abroad to divert attention from the relentless piling up of legal troubles at home.

But the administration’s hawks, led by National Security Adviser John Bolton, special adviser for Venezuela Elliot Abrams, and Florida GOP Senator Marco Rubio, have certainly not given up. So, no one should be surprised when the blustering Trump once again threatens the Venezuelan people with war unless they rise up and throw out their president.

But we might be a little more curious about the enthusiastic backing Trump has enjoyed from the prominent Democrats and mainstream media who have otherwise denounced him for undermining the post–World War II liberal world order—tearing up treaties, disdaining democracy, and holding international law in open contempt.

Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand, Richard Durbin, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and PBS commentators are among the leading liberal internationalist choristers chanting their support for Trump’s right to impose regime change on another people’s country.

They assure us, of course, that they are not promoting war. Rather, they support the presumably more “moral” policy of harsh sanctions, i.e., an expectation that strangling the Venezuelan economy will cause enough pain and misery so that Venezuelans will throw out Maduro themselves. Economists Jeffrey Sachs and Mark Weisbrot estimate that 40,000 Venezuelans died as a result of US sanctions in 2017 and 2018. Trump has dramatically tightened them this year. And if that doesn’t work?

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tells us that Trump also prefers peace, but “military action is possible.” And “if that’s what’s required, that’s what the United States will do.” Amen, says Senator Klobuchar; “you always leave things on the table,” she said. History suggests that when you put guns on the table, the trigger-happy (e.g., Bolton and Abrams, an architect of the 1980s contra wars in Central America) are likely to manufacture an excuse to use them. Pompeo says Trump doesn’t need congressional approval to send in the Marines, anyway. This limits regime-change Democrats to the role of softening up the public for Trump’s jihad.

Trump claims the support of an international “coalition of the willing,” which of course we also corralled for the wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. This year’s group includes some small client states; the newly ascendant right-wing leaders of Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia; and intimidated Europeans who will give Trump his way in Latin American to avoid his ire over their lack of enthusiasm for his warmongering against Iran and his off-again, on-again romance with Vladimir Putin. Like Trump’s Democratic supporters, the Europeans say they are not necessarily endorsing war.

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