Throughout Marco Rubio's push to attack Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro, the Florida senator's defenders have claimed it would be nothing like the military disasters of the past.
But Rubio yesterday seriously undermined that argument — by comparing this new conflict to the '80s Cold War and catastrophic 2011 invasion of Libya.
Yesterday, Rubio, who is effectively in charge of Latin American policy for the Trump administration, posted two images glorifying old America military invasions. Notably, both of those references — to America's 1989 invasion of Panama and 2011 ouster of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi — were violent disasters that led to avoidable U.S.-caused tragedies. As numerous people noted online yesterday, both incidents — in which the United States ousted demonstrably bad leaders, only to inflict even more harm on each country's people — are perfect examples of why the United States needs to work harder to find diplomatic alternatives to war.
Rubio is frighteningly oblivious to this. On Saturday, his coalition — a tag team that also includes warmongering National Security Adviser John Bolton and genocide-abetting Venezuelan envoy Elliott Abrams — attempted to ram a few American aid trucks across Venezuela's border even though the United Nations and Red Cross explicitly warned against doing so. The move predictably ended in violence and repression from the Maduro regime. Rubio then spent the weekend acting surprised Maduro fought the U.S. aid push even though the plan appeared designed to provoke such a response and, thus, provide a pretext for war.
"After discussions tonight with several regional leaders, it is now clear the grave crimes committed today by the Maduro regime have opened the door to various potential multilateral actions not on the table just 24 hours ago," Rubio tweeted Saturday hours after the chaos ended at the border. Likewise, Venezuelan National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó, whom the Trump administration has recognized as the country's leader, wrote online Saturday that "all options" were now on the table — suggesting he might ask for an invasion.
But the subtlety went out the window Sunday morning, when Rubio started psychotically tweeting images of old American invasions. He began with an image of former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, whom the United States ousted in a bloody 1989 invasion under George H.W. Bush.
It is insane to glorify America's invasion of Panama, which was called Operation: Just Cause. Before the U.S. attack, Noriega was a U.S. ally — Ronald Reagan intentionally overlooked Noriega's ties to drug traffickers, and the CIA had propped up Noriega for years, mostly because of the general's anti-communist stance. By most historical accounts, Noriega didn't do much to provoke an attack from the first Bush administration. The then-president largely seemed to push for the invasion after getting browbeaten in the media for seeming "weak" on foreign policy, according to New York University historian Greg Grandin.
America rolled over Noriega's military in a few days. The country's population at the time was only 2.4 million, and the Panamanian military was smaller than the New York City Police Department. But though the invasion did not seem to include the level of violence or depravity seen in, say, America's intrusions on Guatemala, Nicaragua, or El Salvador, that didn't mean the invasion was nonviolent. American forces infamously firebombed poor neighborhoods and killed thousands of Panamanian civilians. The invasion created an estimated 20,000 refugees. Between 1,000 and 2,000 Panamanian citizens were killed, but an official count of the U.S. death toll does not exist.
In 2015, Panama launched a "truth commission" to fully count the crimes committed by the American military. Activists have argued for years that the United States owes reparations.
While America may glorify its military excursion into Panama, many of the country's residents look back on the invasion with dread and sadness. Humberto Brown, a former Panamanian diplomat, told Democracy Now in 2014 that most Panamanians remember Operation: Just Cause the way Americans view the 9/11 attacks. "For the majority of people in Panama, it’s one of the most... traumatic experiences we have ever lived, because we’re a Catholic country," he said. "To bomb a country when people are in the process of celebrating Christmas, bomb them at midnight, is something that... violates every basic international law, from the Geneva Convention or any agreement... about protecting civilians in time of war."
Many historians say the Panama invasion set the stage for America's later invasions or attacks in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Although America's involvement in Libya has been an unmitigated disaster, Rubio referenced it yesterday.
Rubio's Libya tweet blew up political Twitter, and for good reason. America's 2011 involvement in that country's civil war is exactly the sort of cautionary tale that should make U.S. lawmakers pause before advocating more military adventures. Gaddafi, much like Maduro, for years had repressed, killed, and tortured civilians. Few argued the Libyan strongman was a good or competent leader.
But after the United States helped Libyan rebels topple Gaddafi, the country imploded further. His death, in which rebels used a bayonet to sodomize him before killing him, was caught on video. But after the initial cheers subsided, reality set in: America and its allies had crafted no actual plan to help turn Libya back into a functioning nation again. Instead, the country descended into chaos — and now, as multiple news outlets have confirmed, Libya is controlled by various warring factions of Islamic extremist groups. Migrant slaves are being sold in open-air markets. It is a failed state, and that's largely America's fault.
That Rubio would threaten to do this to Venezuela shows a complete lack of judgment on his part. Even the senator's supporters chimed in online yesterday to call the tweets offensive and counterproductive. If Rubio is trying to gin up international support for America's actions in Venezuela, mentioning U.S. military disasters isn't a good way to do it.
Others guessed that Rubio is bluffing online to scare Venezuelan military officials into defecting. Francisco Toro, a Venezuelan journalist who is no Maduro defender, warned that Rubio is running big risks. Venezuela could turn into a failed state run by paramilitary groups. If the United States invaded, he argues, it would likely decrease Guaidó's chances of governing the country:
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Likewise, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a D.C. think tank, warns that a United States-led invasion of Venezuela would likely devolve into a years-long sectarian conflict with "a drawn-out insurgency," much like the decades-long Colombian civil war or America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan:
(Also, this morning, Rubio told the news outlet Axios that America's military interventions failed in the Middle East because the region's values make violence an "unfixable" problem. That racist statement implies Middle Easterners are more violent than people in the Western Hemisphere.)
All told, Rubio's statements over the past 72 hours raise a ton of red flags and suggest America's moves in Venezuela have been low on planning and high on bluster. Bragging about creating a failed state in Libya ought to disqualify anyone from controlling American foreign policy.