Biden Needs to Get Out of the Defensive Crouch on Venezuela
Running on an echo of Marco Rubio’s regime change idiocy isn’t going to win you any elections, either.
Christopher Mott makes the case for restoring normal relations with Venezuela:
With attachment to Guaido fading, Washington should now disavow interference in Caracas’s internal affairs and offer sanctions relief as an easy price to pay for setting up a full and robust exchange of commerce, oil, and gas between Venezuela and the United States.
Unfortunately, the Biden administration’s attachment to Guaidó remains weirdly strong. The president’s wife posted a photo with Guaidó’s wife this week and refers to her as the First Lady of Venezuela. This is just the latest sign that U.S. Venezuela policy remains on Trump-era autopilot. I suppose it is fitting that our farcical fantasy Venezuela policy should remain tied to the fantasy that Guaidó is president, since they both lack any connection to the real world.
This week on our podcast, my colleague Kelley Vlahos and I spoke with William Neuman, the author of the new book Things Are Never So Bad That They Can’t Get Worse, which covers the ongoing crisis in Venezuela. In our interview, he talks about the political reasons why Biden and the Democrats don’t want to rock the boat on Venezuela policy. He writes about the effects of the 2020 election in the book:
Democrats were stunned by their shellacking in Florida. Besides losing the presidential vote in the state, two incumbent (and moderate) Democratic congresswomen lost their seats in majority Hispanic Miami-Dade County, where Republicans has aggressively pressed their “all Democrats are socialists” campaign (there were other factors, as well, including a better Republican get-out-the-vote effort). This meant any administration move toward Venezuela that could be portrayed as an overture toward Maduro or a softening of support for Guaidó could cost the Democrats votes in the midterm election and beyond.
“They see it as a third rail,” said a person who discussed Venezuela policy with an administration official. “They know nothing good is going to come of this.”1
It is understandable that the administration is wary of paying a political price to make necessary policy changes, but we also know that nothing good comes from hunkering down in a defensive crouch and continuing policies that you know can’t succeed. Republicans will call Democrats socialists no matter what their foreign policy is and no matter what they do, but the more important point is that hardline exile voters were never going to vote for Democratic candidates anyway. Running on an echo of Marco Rubio’s regime change idiocy isn’t going to win you any elections, either, because any voters that respond to hardline posturing will just vote for the hardline candidates and reject the cheap knockoff version.
There is something deeply wrong with our foreign policy when the hardline and wildly unrepresentative views of a relatively small number of voters in one state can effectively dictate our policy towards a country of more than 30 million people. Broad U.S. sanctions in Venezuela are predictably very unpopular there because they have made the already bad conditions in the country much worse while further entrenching Maduro. Granting significant sanctions relief would primarily benefit ordinary people that have been forced to bear the burden of these sanctions for years. There is also an obvious American interest right now in bringing more oil back on the market and allowing Venezuela to export to the United States once again. Both Americans and Venezuelans stand to benefit from sanctions relief.
An administration with some imagination and political courage could easily defend that policy change from hawkish attacks. Let the Venezuela hawks argue for continued collective punishment that impoverishes and starves ordinary people and see how well they fare when they are forced to own the consequences of their ghoulish policy. The alternative is to perpetuate a monstrous economic war that hurts innocent people and brings discredit on the United States out of fear that you might lose votes from people that would never support you in the first place.
Neuman, Things Are Never So Bad That They Can’t Get Worse: p. 299.