Monday, April 06, 2020

Using Venezuela as Distraction

Attacking another country to distract attention from problems at home is an old strategy all over the world, and used periodically by U.S. presidents. It's most effective, however, if you don't tell everyone that you are trying to distract them. There is sort of a Fight Club vibe in that respect. Yet I am not surprised that the Trump administration both is thinking of the strategy and talking about its purpose. "Please don't look at our inept Covid-19 response and instead think about using military force against Venezuela. OK?" And then, almost inevitably, the messaging breaks down and there is open disagreement about the purpose of the military force in the first place.
"This wasn't supposed to be put in the public until May," the senior Pentagon official who was familiar with the operation told Newsweek. "POTUS is using the operation to attempt to redirect attention."
So that didn't go as planned.
"Transnational Criminal Organizations and traffickers are seeking to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic by increasing their illicit trade activity, which can contribute to the spread of the virus among diverse groups of people and across vast distances," a senior administration official told Newsweek. 
Multiple senior U.S. officials who spoke to Newsweek on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the effort expressed "shock" at this conflation. 
The senior Pentagon official told Newsweek that the Venezuelan counternarcotics operation "has nothing to do with the virus."
So this was all bungled, but we haven't addressed the key question: will it distract anyone? This would require having someone who supports Trump for his Venezuela/Cuba policies and who might be wavering because of other policy debacles. Such a person is most likely someone of Cuban or Venezuelan descent living in Florida--no one else cares enough about Venezuela.* To actually change their position, or keep them in your corner, Trump would need to do something significant. I can't think of anything significant except for invasion itself. Would a few patrolling boats, a show of strength, have that kind of impact, enough to make people forget the unnecessary death and suffering at home? It's hard to imagine.

* I know that no one really cared about Panama either in the late 1980s, but attitudes toward George H.W. Bush were nothing like Trump's. He had tons of room to gather Democrats. These days you have to care a lot about Venezuela to move closer to Trump.


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