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The Failed Venezuelan Coup and the Decline of US Hegemony

Photograph Source: The White House – Public Domain

On June 19, The Washington Post reported that Trump has apparently lost interest in the Venezuela coup attempt and taken to attacking members of his own administration for their failure to oust the government of President Nicolas Maduro. The article quotes anonymous administration officials who claim that Trump believes John Bolton and other officials working on the Venezuela coup “got played” by both Venezuelan coup leaders and members of the Maduro government. Trump is said to have “chewed them out” at an angry meeting about the failure to topple Maduro. Apparently, Trump believed that doing so would be “low hanging fruit” and an easy win that he could “tout as a major foreign policy victory,”. This should come as no surprise, however. As Counterpunch reported at the time, the coup attempt was already stalling by late February – just a month after it had first been launched.

Like Trump, the coup’s cheerleaders in the mainstream press have been scratching their heads as to why Washington’s puppet – so-called ‘interim president’ Juan Guaido – didn’t quickly succeed in seizing power. Certainly, the lasting popularity of the policies enacted by the late Hugo Chavez and the revulsion at the idea of US intervention held by most Venezuelans are major factors. But there is another more subtle, but also more significant factor at play – the decline of US power in the Trump era. Under his presidency, the US imperial apparatus has fallen into the hands of a child in an adult’s body who can’t stay on subject when talking, let along on point when acting. Indeed, Washington’s traditional foreign policy establishment – including Henry Kissinger – endorsed Clinton in the 2016 presidential race. She was the preferred option because she would be the more competent administrator of empire.

Trump, on the other hand, though representing the most reactionary US government in recent memory, paradoxically has also led to an opening to challenge US power. The first reason is that he and his administration are much less disciplined about obscuring their true intensions behind insincere proclamations of benevolent motives. Whereas the George W. Bush administration in the run up to the Iraq War successfully manufactured consent amongst a large swath of the US public by scaring them over false claims about “weapons of mass destruction,” the Trump administration doesn’t even hide the fact that its foreign policy is motivated by advancing the US economic interests. National Security Advisor John Bolton admitted during an interview with Fox News that Washington seeks “regime change” in Venezuela to benefit US corporations. “It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela,” he said nonchalantly. Just months earlier, Trump had spoken openly about how his administration intends to stay on friendly terms with the brutal Saudi dictatorship because it is good for business. Taken together, these two statements perfectly communicate to the world both the naked self-interest that guides US foreign policy and the extreme hypocrisy by which it is exercised.

Second, and most significantly, the Trump administration has in its incompetence brought to the fore how US foreign policy can be both highly destructive while simultaneously an utter failure – even on its own narrow terms. In spite of utilizing every regime change tool its entire imperialist arsenal short of direct military intervention, the coup attempt has now failed and been all but shelved by Trump himself. Nonetheless, it has caused huge suffering to Venezuela’s civilian population. Economic sanctions, for instance, which form a large part of the coup strategy, have according to a recent report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research led to the deaths of around 40,000 people. They have furthermore exacerbated the economic crisis that has been roiling the country since around 2015, leading to greater shortages of food and medicine. US allies in Europe and elsewhere in Latin America must surely have picked up on the fact that they have been strung along with a “regime change” strategy that has caused mayhem yet failed to achieve its objectives. The significance of this is hard to overstate. The memory of failure in Venezuela will reverberate for many decades to come and make these allies think twice next time they are asked to support the next US foreign escapade.

Furthermore, it has brought attention to what is, in fact, a familiar pattern in world affairs – one that, nonetheless, has been subjected to years of historical revisionism. The failure-plus-huge-destruction model is nothing new when it comes to US intervention both military and non-military. The classic case of the latter is Cuba. In spite of a nearly six decades-long economic blockage that has cost its economy over $100 billion, the political and economic system has not been destroyed and replaced with Washington’s bogus vision of what democracy and prosperity should look like – so-called “free markets” along with an electoral system subverted by US meddling and/or by money and corporate interests, as it has been in its own country. In terms of military intervention, the paradigmatic case is Vietnam, where the US was forced into making a humiliating retreat. Again, though the war completely failed in its objective to “contain communism,” it nonetheless led to the deaths of several hundreds, if not millions, of Vietnamese civilians, not to mention needless military casualties on both sides.

So, if Venezuela represents a decisive opportunity to challenge US power, where does that leave anti-imperialists? Above all, we must recognize that, since the coup’s failure is event of world-historical importance, it leaves us with a responsibility not to squander it. First of all, we must pull no punches in ridiculing the Latin American and European governments that supported the coup for their contemptible kowtowing to Washington’s agenda. They must never be made to forget that they lent legitimacy to a foreign policy blunder that has killed tens of thousands, further destabilized the region and exacerbated political divisions within Venezuela. They must also be made to wear sackcloth and ashes simply for the fact that they cozied up to a US administration that is racist, reactionary and fascistic to its core and led by an outright conman, crook and shyster. Second of all, we must also communicate to the wider public – to the non-radical and even apolitical sections of the population – that US imperialism not only is destructive to the well-being of the vast majority of humanity but also becoming an increasingly risible exercise even on its own terms.

This is crucial because it provides a way of framing the debate for the benefit of people who are not highly political by nature and are therefore easy prey for manufacturing consent for empire and globalized capitalism. Finally, and most crucially, we must not be complacent. As the rise of other fascistic governments around the world – from Brazil to Eastern Europe – demonstrates, the neoliberal and imperialist status quo is morphing into a new fascistic stage of its evolution. The failure of traditional progressive parties to provide an alternative has opened a gaping political space that reactionary populists have been more than happy to fill. And their rise will only embolden Washington to continue cavorting around the globe, leaving a trail of death and destruction in its wake. As the second decades of the new millennium nears completion we are beginning to truly understand what Rosa Luxemburg meant when she said: “”Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to Socialism or regression into Barbarism.”

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