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Against U.S. Intervention In Venezuela

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We are going to continue our conversation about the situation in Venezuela. We're talking now about what the U.S. role should be. The Trump administration has made it clear where it stands, trying to whip up support for opposition leader Juan Guaido, who's declared himself interim president. But how far is the U.S. willing to go? Here's President Trump speaking to Margaret Brennan on CBS's "Face The Nation."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FACE THE NATION")

MARGARET BRENNAN: What would make you use the U.S. military in Venezuela? What's a national security interest?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, I don't want to say that, but certainly, it's something that's on the - it's an option

MARTIN: Retired Admiral James Stavridis, who once commanded all military-to-military operations south of the U.S. border, says the U.S. should tread very carefully here, especially with the idea of a military intervention. He wrote about this for Time this past week. Admiral Stavridis was commander of the U.S. Southern Command from 2006 to 2009. He was also the 16th supreme allied commander of NATO. And he's with us now.

Admiral, welcome back. Thanks so much for joining us once again.

JAMES STAVRIDIS: Great to be with you, Michel.

MARTIN: The title of your op-ed was "I Commanded The U.S. Military In South America. Deploying Soldiers To Venezuela Would Only Make Things Worse." That's the headline of your piece. And you write that a full-blown invasion by the U.S. would foment rage in the region and internationally. So tell us more about why you say that and why you particularly felt a need to say this as bluntly as you have.

STAVRIDIS: I'm a little worried that the administration is edging up toward a military intervention. To send troops there would immediately rattle the old ghosts throughout the region that are the result of the numerous times the United States has intervened militarily in Latin America and the Caribbean over the last century or so. We don't want to push it that far. We want to do this with our allies. It is still a time for dialogue. Coupled with economic and political tools, we can land this thing without violence and without a military intervention.

MARTIN: What is it that informs your view of this? I know one of the things you wrote in your piece was that everywhere you went as a four-star admiral in the region while commanding the U.S. Southern Command, you would be reminded of America's history of intervention. And I take it you don't mean, you know, sort of people kind of politely making cocktail party chit-chat...

STAVRIDIS: (Laughter).

MARTIN: ...With you about it.

STAVRIDIS: Not at all. Everywhere I went, I'd be taken, for example, to the military museums of nations throughout the region. Every single one of them had a significant historical representation of the number of times the United States had intervened militarily. They remember it in vivid detail in ways that we do not.

MARTIN: And even if the stated intention was to offer relief to people who have - who are clearly suffering.

STAVRIDIS: Exactly so. And I'll give you a very practical example. When I was in command, we stood up. We created a new fourth fleet of the Navy with a focus specifically on medical diplomacy, disaster relief, humanitarian operations, counter-narcotics - all things you would think the people in the region would applaud. Yet they saw it, unfortunately, as a return to gunboat diplomacy. We had to work very hard to overcome that. We've done so, but it would set us back enormously if we conducted a military intervention at this point.

MARTIN: What are some of the other options that you think the U.S. should be considering?

STAVRIDIS: We should - and I applaud the administration for doing this - we should put strong economic sanctions particularly targeting corrupt individuals, starting with Maduro and his leadership claque. Second, we should work with our allies, partners and friends in the region, particularly through the organization of American States to broaden those sanctions to increase the throw weight of them on the corrupt leadership there. No. 3, we ought to be ready for a humanitarian crisis because at this point, there are 4 million Venezuelans outside the country, perhaps another 10 million starving inside the country. Above all, this is not a political competition. This is a humanitarian disaster that we're going to have to work collectively to solve.

MARTIN: Finally, is there any glimmer of hope that you see? I know that, you know, as we are speaking, President Maduro has signaled that he would be open to holding parliamentary elections sooner than had been planned. Is there anything that gives you hope that there will be a resolution in that region that will be - not catastrophic. Let's put it that way.

STAVRIDIS: I think there is every reason to be cautiously optimistic. I think there is a 3 in 4 chance that we can land this thing without a major military intervention. But it's going to require political, economic and, above all, cohesive regional action in order to pressure Maduro. And then you bring in observers. In any free and fair election, he'll be defeated. And I think also we have to offer him an amnesty, let him have a way out, like Idi Amin did coming out of Africa. I think if we have elections, and all that happens under regional authority, Organization of American States, we can land this thing diplomatically.

BRENNAN: That was retired Admiral James Stavridis. He is the former supreme allied commander of NATO, and before that, he was commander of U.S. Southern Command.

Admiral, thanks so much for talking to us once again.

STAVRIDIS: Always a pleasure. Have a prayer for Venezuela. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.