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The US media is not paying much attention to the growing crisis between Venezuela and Colombia, presumably because it would detract from the excitement of the Clinton wedding. Both countries have moved troops up to the border and are only an “accident” removed from shooting at each other. It would be the first actual war in the Western Hemisphere since Ecuador and Peru faced off some years back.

But the interesting subplot is how the US is involved because of Colombia’s status as client state and surrogate for Washington in the Andes region. Two weeks ago, Colombia produced evidence at an Organization of American States meeting tying Venezuela to support of Colombian terrorist groups. The Chavez government’s support of FARC in particular has been well documented for several years, but everyone is leery of getting too confrontational with oil producer Venezuela lest another gas price shock be unleashed. So one has to wonder at the timing of the Colombian revelation, three weeks before President Alvaro Uribe is due to be replaced by his former defense minister, who has pledged that the restoration of good relations with Caracas will be a prime objective of his new government. Uribe is clearly trying to get one last jab in against Chavez, whom he hates, and Chavez is describing the entire crisis as a by product of Yankee imperialism. He has threatened to cut off all oil bound for the US.

Washington reportedly begged Colombia not to go to the OAS with the information on Chavez and the terrorists, but Uribe refused to back down. So the United States is at the mercy of the behavior of a client state that is of little or no importance. It does something stupid or provocative and the US gets bundled into the crisis, like it or not. It is the inherent danger in having too many commitments around the world, most of which do not matter a bit and can become real liabilities in the blink of an eye. One might note in passing that the US military presence in Colombia, which has been a red flag waved in Chavez’ face, is part of the war on drugs, a war that Washington has been losing for thirty years, even longer than the wars currently being lost in Iraq and Afghanistan.

(Republished from The American Conservative by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Colombia, Venezuela 
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  1. TomT says:

    Excellent article, as usual.

    My proposal is ALL troops and ALL financial aid overseas require a 3/4 majority vote of BOTH houses of Congress, and MUST be ratified by the Executive branch, and MUST be renewed each 12-month-period, or else such military or financial presence in a foreign country is discontinued with a max 30-day winddown time.

    To those who would say this would reduce the US military and political credibility worldwide, I would answer, “what the hell do you think we’re doing now?”

    Think of how many MORE friends we’d have worldwide if we simply quit propping up our choice of winners and losers. People would have to ACTUALLY COMPETE for our temporary (12 month max) assistance and favor.

  2. Patrick says:

    I have lived in Quito for over 16 years, I am happy to help with any questions you might have about the country. Patrick- [email protected]

  3. Jonathan says:

    Where do you get off saying that Colombia is of little or no importance in terms of its relationship to the United States?

  4. Follow the money. A lot of bureaucrats and policy wonks make a living managing crises like this. The fact that they created them is simply ignored.

    The empire and the drug war have many other beneficiaries: prison guards and those who build prisons; the criminal justice system, including the D.A. staffs, clerks, bailiffs, and judges; the police departments, who have an incentive to become para-military squads that enrich themselves through asset seizures of the people they’re supposed to be protecting.

    As usual, only the poor and middle class get the short end of the stick. They end up funding this entire racket while being subjected to unConstitutional searches, arrest, and impoverishment.

    Our government is waging war on us. Will we resist or roll over and submit?

  5. Jonathan – I note that your email address is from Colombia. Why do you think Colombia is of great importance to the United States, enough to justify subordinating US policy in the region to the whims of President Uribe? Which is my point…

  6. Columbia’s only importance to the US is interdiction of the cocaine trade, which could be done safer, easier and cheaper, if the damn stuff were a regulated legal substance and not an illegal substance.

  7. TomB says:

    As one who believes the drug was has been crazy (and that legalization is the way to go, albeit perhaps with some limits), I’d agree that Columbia’s importance to the U.S. has and is overwhelmingly (but not totally) tied to this foolish war. (Not totally because to large degree Columbia has shown that trying to embrace our values and spurning “anti-gringoism” is a good way to go in South America, and that’s not chopped liver I don’t think.)

    However, I think that one can take the reaction against our involvement in the Mideast too far by just automatically saying that we ought just be totally neutral with Columbia too—sort of like the cat who, once having sat on a hot stove, chooses to hurt itself by never ever sitting on any nice cold stoves either.

    While one may not like the (drug) circumstances of how Columbia has most evidently shown itself to be a friend to the U.S., the fact is that it has been such a friend. And Chavez most certainly isn’t. And one ought not forget how easy—and profitable—it could have been for Columbia to have turned like Mexico mostly is: That is, essentially, a drug enterprise right to the top. Lots and *lots* of brave Columbian politicians and citizens and cops and etc. have either lost or risked their lives and the lives of their families too trying to help us. I don’t know that it’s all that wrong even to say that Columbia in essence fought a civil war over whether to be a U.S. friend, and sustained all the horrors and costs of civil wars.

    So what’s the lesson for Columbians if after telling them to go and spurn drug money and risk their lives to fight drugs for our sake the U.S. were to suddenly get all puffed up about our own interests and not at least side to *some* degree with Columbia and Uribe?

    And what’s the lesson for *other* countries watching same? “Oh sure, what a *great* friend the U.S. is….”

    Nobody’s talking about us sending troops there, so I don’t know what Giraldi means by us perhaps getting “bundled into” whatever happens. Certainly they are scary words, and certainly we shouldn’t get bundled into anything, nor even voluntarily walk into any active combat role. But I at least don’t see any of that as being truly realistic here. Instead at the most the U.S. supplying some military stuff, if that even at worst.

    And, in terms of doing whatever, seems to me the old “benefit-to-cost” consideration comes in, so that even if we did considerably much for Columbia to show our friendship for it, so the hell what in terms of what Chavez can do back to us militarily or politically? E.g., the benefit to us would be appreciable to at least some extent, and the politico-military cost to us would be imperceptible.

    What this leaves then is the economic, and seems to me one can thus see Obama’s “begging” with Uribe not to go to the OAS with his evidence of Chavez’ support of the FARC in a very different light than something noble. Giraldi admits FARC has been supported by Chavez, and that group has truly murdered and terrorized the *hell* out of Columbia, for *decades. So if indeed the idea is that gee, we ought to turn our back on Columbia because the big-mouth Chavez is gonna hurt us/blackmail us economically, well then let us just call a spade a spade and admit to being spineless blackguards. Indeed, isn’t surrendering to such blackguardism—no matter the state of our economy—exactly the kind of thing we’d monumentally *disdain* in any of our Presidents who did so?

    Better I pay $10 per gallon of gas than turn my back on a friend and truckle to a guy like Chavez.

    Yes, there’s subtleties here no doubt, with it perhaps being true that Uribe is going a bit too far in some ego-driven thing with Chavez. And this should inform our position no doubt, so long as we aren’t thinking of turning our backs on his replacement too when he comes in if he too sees it necessary to face up to Chavez.

    But at the very least it seems to me the U.S. ought to be sending the signal to Chavez that, if he thinks he’s going to get us to get Columbia to ignore his funding of the true, chronic, terrible terrorism that’s been practiced against it, he can start to contemplate how to drink his fucking oil.

  8. If we could only trick the French into perceiving an “existential” Venezuelan threat to French Guyana……

  9. tbraton says:

    “Nobody’s talking about us sending troops there, so I don’t know what Giraldi means by us perhaps getting “bundled into” whatever happens.”

    Unless I am mistaken, we already have several hundred U.S. troops in Columbia, presumably to help in the monitoring of the drug trade and to assist in fighting terrorists. I may be wrong, but I believe Columbia still remains the world’s leading producer of cocaine, so I am not clear on what exactly the “success” of the Columbian government’s war on drugs really means.

    Thomas O. Meehan: I believe Israel has a trademark on the term “existental threat.” It can only be used to describe potential threats against Israel, however far fetched or remote.

  10. Please, please try spell the name correctly: ColOmbia!

    That out of the way (and I am currently living in Colombia) there is no danger of a war between these two countries. Chavez knows that the Colombian army would overwhelm the Venezuelan army.

    And for what possible reason would Colombia want to start a war? Why did Uribe bring this up right now when he just has a few days left in office? I can only speculate, but it is possible that the FARC were (are) planning substantial terrorist operations on the day the new president (Santos) is inaugurated, and that he is trying to disrupt those plans. I would welcome any other suggestions.

    As to the drug trade, legalization is the only way to end this. FARC survives on drug money. Of course there are many other reasons to legalize, or better said, decrimenalize the use of drugs.

    And why does Mr. Giraldi think that war is pending, as opposed to ‘might be’? Just about anything ‘might be’.

  11. tbraton says:

    “Please, please try spell the name correctly: ColOmbia!”

    Oso Politico: Mea culpa. Incidentally, you are a winner!!! You just caught me in my 1000th spelling mistake posting on a message board. If I had been submitting a paper for publication, I’m positive I would have caught that mistake. Henceforth, I will try to spell the name correctly: ColOmbia. Btw I never realized the middle “o” was capitalized.

    While I generally agree with your views on the solution to the drug problem, I find it curious that you totally absolve Mr. Chavez of any responsibility for the tensions on the border. Mr. Chavez is the one who broke off diplomatic relations with ColOmbia and the one who sent troops to the border. After all, if he is sincere in his denial that FARC has bases in Venezuela, a simple way to prove that is to allow OAS inspections of Venezuelan border areas where the FARC is allegedly hiding.

    I hope you are right about the ColOmbian army’s ability to overwhelm the Venezuelan army. Maybe that is what is needed: Chavez getting a bloody nose from ColOmbia, which might inspire the Venezuelan army to overthrow Chavez. Or has he so infiltrated the army with his own supporters that such an outcome is no longer possible.

  12. TomB says:

    I for one refuse to feel any shame as ColOmbia is the one that obviously goofed. Serves it right trying to name itself after one of our rivers.

  13. It was cetainly not my intention to absolve Chavez of any responsibility. But both he and Uribe are playing politics. Don Hugo is beating the war drums to distract Venezuelans from the many domestic problems he has caused. In that sense, Uribe is giving Chavez a causis belli.

    There will be no war between these two countries. I am still awaiting Philip Giraldi’s response to my question: Why does he believe there will be?

  14. Oso – Sorry about my silence but I didn’t take your question completely seriously. If you re-read what I wrote you will note that I said that they are only an “accident” removed from shooting at each other. With troops along both sides of the border on alert, such things do happen. I personally do not believe that either Venezuela or Colombia wants the crisis to escalate.

  15. tbraton says:

    “I for one refuse to feel any shame as ColOmbia is the one that obviously goofed.”

    Yeah, yeah. Absolve yourself from all blame for your grievous spelling error. For the record, I would merely note that my post immediately followed yours. Since I really didn’t know how to spell the country’s name, I just followed your example and spelled it “Columbia,” figuring you knew what you were doing. The blame is all on you, and not on your innocent followers.

  16. TomB says:

    Apropos something I did tbraton wrote:

    “I just followed your example and … figur[ed] you knew what you were doing.”

    To which I say, in the immortal words of Mr. T, I pity the fool….

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