• Wednesday 21st August 2019

America’s global retreat, Venezuela and more

  • Published on: February 13, 2019

  • By M.R. Josse
    TAMPA, FL: Not a little attention is focused on speculation of how the current border security funding talks end. There is also considerable anxiety that the country might experience a partial government shutdown, just as it did for 35 wrenching days recently.
    There is, then, a possibility that President Donald Trump might seek funding through his oft-threatened ‘national emergency declaration’ route, although its constitutionality is sure to be challenged.
    On the foreign policy front, North Korea is again a focal point following the announcement of a second Trump-Kim Jong Un summit – this time in Hanoi – on February 27.
    Though worldwide interest in that encounter is bound to be less exuberant than it was last July during the first Trump-Kim summit in Singapore, understandably there are less roseate expectations of a breakthrough this time, given that not very much progress has been achieved on core issues.
    To be fair, the Singapore summit did, at the very least, mark a new era in diplomacy and succeeded in lowering the prospect of a devastating nuclear holocaust on the Korean peninsula and Northeast Asia.
    The United States and South Korea struck a deal on the cost of the U.S. military presence in South Korea, “papering over a potential vulnerability in the upcoming U.S.-North Korea”, as a National Public Radio report has it.
    The announcement that a framework agreement over Afghanistan had been reached between the U.S. and the Taliban is noteworthy, though here, too, much work remains unfinished.
    The U.S military presence in Afghanistan, as we know, is being drastically reduced. Meanwhile, after much vacillation, American troops – all of them – are being withdrawn from Syria, on grounds that the ISIS threat to the United States is over.
    It was against this backdrop that I found noted French philosopher/author Bernard-Henri Levy’s dark prognostications on America’s global retreat, on Trump’s watch, thought-provoking, if not disturbing. Currently on a visit promoting his latest book, Levy has been interviewed profusely, including in Fareed Zakaria’s GPS programme on CNN where he theorized that America’s retreat has created a vacuum for five ‘imperialisms’ to flourish – the Russian, Chinese, Iranian, Turkish and Islamic.
    Though time will show how far, if at all, Levy’s apprehensions play out, there is room for foreign policy wonks back home to carefully analyze how all this figures as far as Nepal’s core interests are concerned.
    For one thing, they might attempt to evaluate how America’s now much-bandied-about “Indo-Pacific strategy” relates to the widespread perception of America’s retreat, including on matters impinging on Sino-American relations, the world’s most crucial bilateral relationship today.
    Coming to the stalemated Venezuelan crisis – which has apparently created confusion in Nepal – it is notable that American troops are not on the ground; neither are any planned at this stage, and most certainly not by a president who is cutting back on playing the role of World Cop.
    That having been said, it needs also to be noted that for years the United States actually helped to prop up the Venezuelan economy by importing huge quantities of crude and re-exporting the refined product which Caracas then sold with a profitable margin elsewhere!
    At the present time, it is true that U.S. sanctions against Venezuela are beginning to bite harder than expected. What is undeniably, too, is that global backing for ‘interim president’ Juan Guaido is swelling, in a push for fresh presidential elections to end the deepening political crisis and an impending economic meltdown.
    Today, oil-rich Venezuela is running short of power and fuel; indeed, at a press conference addressed by President Nicolas Maduro, embarrassingly the lights went out. At the time, he lashed out at U.S-led plans to deliver humanitarian aid which arrived at the Colombia-Venezuela border declaring: “This isn’t any help, it is a message to humiliate the people.”
    Though Maduro blames his country’s economic collapse on U.S. meddling, economists say it is due to his heavy-handed policies including price and currency controls and expropriations that have squeezed out the private sector.
    Notable, too, is that the United Nations has been unable to come forth with any resolution – even in the matter of delivering much needed food and medicine, sent mostly by Venezuela’s neighbours.
    No doubt that is because, on the one hand, the UN Security Council is stalemated by the power of the veto of its permanent members; in the General Assembly, member states by definition do not relish the prospect of regime change through external intervention.
    The question therefore arises how will the crisis end: peacefully via agreement on fresh presidential elections – Maduro’s re-election has widely been condemned as rigged – or through a violent, bloody upheaval?
    While the answer to that query, too, lies in the womb of the future, it is salutary to ruminate on the contents of the following jottings.
    As per the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Eric Farnsworth, VP, Americas Society/Council of the Americas: “Beijing’s leaders are pragmatists in the western hemisphere and they can read the change in scenario…(Increasing European support for Guaido) will force China to hedge its bets with Maduro.”
    Revealing are excerpts from Swedish journalist Annika Hernroth-Rothstein’s WSJ interview with Guaido: “I personally don’t believe that Russia and China are on Maduro’s side – they are simply protecting their investments here in Venezuela. But slowly they are realizing that Maduro cannot offer them either stability nor guarantees.”
    “We know that 90 percent of the military support regime change but dare not express it. We don’t want a revolution or a coup. We are fighting for free elections and a constitutional democracy.”
    “Venezuela has been a dictatorship for the past 20 years – a bloody dictatorship – and that has brought about the biggest exodus in South America – almost 15 percent of our population has left the country as a result of starvation and persecution and 85 percent of Venezuelans are living beneath the poverty line.”


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