By Jon Dougherty
Sen. Lindsey Graham has always been a defense hawk, so it comes as no surprise that he’s hawkish on Venezuela.
But he might be just a tad too hawkish, judging by an interview he gave on “Fox News Sunday.”
Probably frustrated by the U.S.-backed failed coup attempt in Venezuela in April, the South Carolina Republican pretty much recommended to POTUS Donald Trump that he launch a Grenada-style invasion of Venezuela, despite obvious differences in the forces we would likely encounter.
“Trump said rightly, [current President Nicolas] Maduro’s not the legitimate leader of Venezuela. The entire region supports the Trump approach, that Guaidó is the legitimate leader,” Graham said.
“I would do exactly what Reagan did. I would give Cuba the ultimatum to get out of Venezuela. If they don’t, I would let the Venezuelan military know, you’ve got to choose between democracy and Maduro,” he continued.
— FoxNewsSunday (@FoxNewsSunday) May 26, 2019
He then said, clearly, “And if you choose Maduro and Cuba, we’re coming after you. This is in our backyard.”
Implication: Take our side or face invasion.
By the way, it’s not just Cuba who has troops and intel personnel in Venezuela; so does Russia, though the bulk of Moscow’s forces are likely paid mercenaries from Wagner Group.
Iran is there, too.
China and Russia both have substantial financial investments in Venezuela’s oil sector, which is suffering from years of neglect after the country’s economy has collapsed under the weight of Maduro’s socialist policies.
During the interview, Graham repeated a claim that is as yet unproven — that Maduro “wouldn’t be in power without six or seven thousand security forces in Venezuela.”
Perhaps. In fact, as the coup attempt kicked off in late April, Maduro was headed for a plane at the airport in Caracas to jet his way to safety, but he was ‘convinced‘ to stay in Venezuela by Russian officials.
In the lead-up to the 1983 invasion of Grenada by U.S. Marines, the Pentagon said it was a crucial “check on communist influence.: Then-President Reagan told the American people “when the thugs tried to wrest control of Grenada, there were 30 Soviet advisers and hundreds of Cuban military and paramilitary forces on the island.”
Venezuela has 160,000 active duty forces, plus tens of thousands more National Guard and security forces. Grenada was a nation of 100,000; there are nearly 30 million people in Venezuela. And we don’t know how many of them are Maduro supporters and how many would fight him; based on the failed coup attempt, however, that should give us a pretty good idea.
It’s possible, even likely, that Graham has access to better intel than we do. But as good as our intelligence services are, they can’t really know for certain how the Venezuelan people would react to an invading force.
The Cubans and Chinese and Russians were invited in by Maduro; they didn’t just land and take over. U.S. forces would definitely be seen as invaders, and that could quickly change attitudes on the home team.
- Follow Jon Dougherty on Twitter at @JonDougherty10