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With the current situation in Venezuela, it seems like the US is once again weighing in against a leader that is textbook socialist or communist that is also a dictator.

I understand the hardships that dictators in these situations often do and why, from a humanitarian point of view, we should want to hope for a free and capitalist Venezuela. However, I am wondering, from a USA first point of view, why we would want that.

With socialism making countries less competitive on a world stage, wouldn’t that be good for our economy, due to the fact we are more competitive relative to them? Again, this is not a point of view I take, but I would love to hear a USA-first philosophy that suggests we should intervene and spend money.

171

If we extrapolate from the historical record, it looks like the U.S. couldn't care less if there is a dictatorship or not in Venezuela or anywhere else.

What the U.S. seems to care about strongly is that a regime does not intrude on their trade interests. Communist and socialist regimes have a tendency to nationalize industries and push land reform, thereby ousting the current stakeholders, which might be U.S. companies. (Land reform usually redistributes land from large landowners to peasants; e.g. see the Guatemalan land reform of 1952.) Therefore the U.S. likes to support right-wing regimes and military juntas aligned with the current business elites.

Most talk about capitalism vs. communism, human rights, democracy etc. is just a pretext to justify military intervention to install a regime that is friendly to U.S. interests.

I agree that the situation in Venezuela is a humanitarian catastrophe and I strongly oppose dictators and autocrats. But sadly, it looks like the U.S. is mainly interested in the Venezuelan oil reserves. [1][2]

Here are two observations to support this argument:

There are many dictatorships currently allied with the U.S.: List of authoritarian regimes supported by the United States. The people under these regimes face many hardships and human rights abuses. Why does the U.S. not intervene?

There are many historical examples where the U.S. has helped to overthrow democratically elected governments to further their economic interests (or of U.S. based corporations):

1949 Syrian coup d'état

1952 Cuban military coup

1953 Iranian coup d'état

1954 Guatemalan coup d'état

1961 Democratic Republic of the Congo

1964 Brazilian coup d'état

1965 Dominican Republic

1973 Chilean coup d'état

1985 Nicaragua

(I give no examples after the end of the Cold War because the targeted regimes like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria etc. were not democratic.)


[1] "It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela." John Bolton on Fox News

[2] Venezuela Taps Obscure Driller to Replace Big-Name Oil Firms Bloomberg

  • Lots of comments deleted. Please don't use comments for political discussions. For more information on what comments should and should not be used for, please check the help article on the commenting privilege. – Philipp Feb 14 at 16:28
  • Directly requesting an improvement to the answer - Could you add support for the assertion that 'the US has [often] helped overthrow democratically-elected governments to further their economic interests'? The links provided all describe involvement, but (with the possible exception of Guatemala) all describe the US government's motivations there to be primarily political (specifically, anti-communist or anti-anti-west). – HammerN'Songs Feb 15 at 18:24
  • Since there are a lot of good answers here already, would you be willing to add a "Religion" bullet point to your answer? I'm surprised nobody mentioned it. I'm quite sure that the entire rabid hatred for communism among the general public in the 50s (which is then transferred to government via representatives) is that Communism outlaws religion. I'm also pretty sure that this hatred carried over to "Socialism" without most religious people even realizing it no longer applied. – dataless Feb 15 at 23:19
  • @dataless There's two nuances to that: 1) not all communist/socialist countries ban religion, even if most (and especially the USSR) do 2) at the start of having at least proclamed anti-communist agendas, secularism in the USA had been on the rise. Part of McCarthy-ism was a promotion of religiousness in the populace, so the rhetoric against godless communism could be more effectively used. So while, sure, there was a push from public to the government, there was an equal push back. – DonFusili 2 days ago
  • @dataless That is an interesting point, but I would prefer if you post your own answer because I concentrated on the economic aspect and am not very knowledgeable about the religious aspect. – Georg Patscheider 2 days ago
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I think the most useful framework to use to view US foreign policy is the one set out in Walter Russel Mead's Special Providence.

The thesis is that there are essentially 4 schools of foreign policy, continually jockeying for getting their own way. Their primary motivations are roughly: promoting US business, protecting the US from foreign threats, promoting US values, and "Never start a fight, but always finish it." He respectively labeled these 4 schools "Hamiltonians", "Jeffersonians", "Wilsonians", and "Jacksonians". Basically, if you as a foreign country never manage to tick off more than one of these groups, you will generally do OK.

Hamiltonians are always going to have problems with any country that Nationalizes large amount of private assets. Particularly if the private companies in question were US companies, or had lucrative contracts with US companies. So while they don't necessarily care if a country decides to have universal healthcare, they care a great deal if it decides to nationalize its entire Oil industry. Venezuela did this in 1976, but it was Chavez in 1999 who kicked all the foreign oil projects out of the country. This earned him (and his protégé's ) the enmity of the Hamiltonians.

Jeffersonians are generally OK with countries as long as they don't threaten the US. Unfortunately, Venezuelan leaders have made a habit of casting the US as their enemy, as a tactic to distract from domestic troubles. While not a huge threat, they have also been busy the last few decades publicly making common cause with other countries that are generally perceived to be US enemies, like Cuba and Russia. This is clearly unfriendly behavior, and does not have them in good smell with Jeffersonians. Strike two.

Wilsonians want other countries to be democratic, and their people to be free. Any country whose rulers clearly cheat an election will be on their shitlist. They didn't have a big problem with Chavez kicking US Oil companies out when he did it back in 1999, because he was a popular elected leader of a young democracy, and in their books the region needs more of those.

However, recently things have changed. Venezuela abolished its presidential term limits in 2009. In 2015 the ruling party lost its parliamentary election, and essentially created its own separate parliament rather than abide by it. A recall movement started, which the President's government cancelled by fiat. The next election in 2017 had more shenanigans than I can list, resulting in polling showing about 73% of Venezuelans thinking the new assembly not being valid, and 78% considering their country to now be a dictatorship.

Wilsonians do not like election shenanigans, and certainly don't like dictatorships. That's strike three.

Jacksonians aren't going to be approving of any messing with Venezuela until the day we are actually fighting. For Maduro, that's a good thing. The US Army and Marines are heavily peopled by folks with this outlook (as are a lot of lower-income relatively apolitical Americans, from which those services draw) This is the one group you do not want to tick off above all others.

So the basic problem the current Venezuela regime has is that they've actively ticked off 3 of the 4 poles of US foreign policy. Anyone in this situation can expect a lot of non-military intervention (and military isn't out of the question either).

  • 1
    Lots of comments deleted. Please don't use comments for political discussions. For more information on what comments should and should not be used for, please check the help article on the commenting privilege. – Philipp Feb 14 at 16:30
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    Could you edit the answer so that the schools of thought overview at the top are in the same order as your expanded paragraphs( just switch the jeffersonians and wilsonians), that would make it much easier to read. – user21878 Feb 16 at 0:50
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    @user21878 - Done. I'd initially had them in that order, but decided it would make sense to reorder the discourse in order of when they started having a problem with the leadership of the country in question. So that's how the order got out of whack in the first place. Merely an editing oversight. – T.E.D. 2 days ago
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Think back 50, 60, 70 years.

There used to be something called the Cold War.

  • Belief in their own system.
    Various free market economies are convinced that some from of Capitalism is right for people worldwide. Communists are convinced that Communism is right for people worldwide. Each wants to convince the rest of the world, and to save the people languishing under the other system.
  • Shaping the global order.
    Even if it is not about saving other people (who may or may not want to be saved) the number of communist nations worldwide will shape how global trade flows function. This includes things like tariffs, patent law, investment protection, ...
  • Fear of the Domino Theory.
    If states are successful with the other system, their own population might decide to change the domestic system. That mostly happened with people throwing off Communism in recent decades, but there was a time when Communist revolutions were quite common.
  • 2
    This answer doesn't really point out what the US has to gain, as the question asks. Your first point is entirely altruistic, so there's no gain for the US. The third point is a bit circular, as preventing the spread of Communism helps prevent further spread of Communism, but isn't a reason why we should do that in the first place. Only the second point brings any immediate benefit to the US, but it needs to be expanded upon - how is Communism directly related to patent law or tariffs? – Nuclear Wang Feb 12 at 14:13
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    "there was a time when Communist revolutions were quite common" - True, but even that gets complicated. The heyday of the Peoples' Revolutions occurred when, as a result of the Cold War, Russia and China supported them in the crumbling empires of the European states which, post-WWII, were pitted against Russia and China. Part of the support came from ideological sympathy, but part was a desire to damage the "Democracies". The flip side was US support for bad actors. The US became entangled in Vietnam in part because it felt it could not directly oppose France's attempts to maintain its colonie – WhatRoughBeast Feb 12 at 16:47
  • Lots of comments deleted. Please don't use comments for political discussions. For more information on what comments should and should not be used for, please check the help article on the commenting privilege. – Philipp Feb 14 at 16:31
  • Don't forget religion. (elephant in the room maybe?) 75% of America identifies as Christian, and Communism (i.e. USSR) outlawed it. I imagine the Roman Catholic church also had a large hand in opposing the USSR though I don't have any data about that. – dataless Feb 15 at 23:27
10

Being a Socialist state is not a crime by itself. There are plenty of countries in today's world that can be called more or less socialist: consider Nordic model, informally known as Swedish Socialism.

Dictatorships, on the other hand, tend to build Socialist or Communist economies because the Socialism assumes a bigger fraction of the nation's means of production and gross domestic product controlled and redistributed by the ruling regime. See, for example, Lenin: „The Dictatorship Of The Proletariat“ (1919).

Simply speaking, it is easier to rule over the poor than the rich; it easier to be a dictator if your economic system is a Communism.

The biggest concern is that dictatorships — Communist dictatorships — also commit other crimes against human rights and international law, which is seen intolerable by the US:

  • the violation of own people's human rights;
  • the sharp raise of the violent crime (induces the flow of refugees);
  • the state's active role in production and transit of illegal drugs;
  • acts of international terrorism;
  • armed invasions to neighboring countries.

Note, all these problems are not local at all. They splash outside or even are targeted against other states. That's why these regimes pose a threat.

Why is communism considered as evil (like fascism and nazism) in the United States?


Now, straight to the question:

I am wondering, from a USA first point of view, why we would want that.

The US wants to eliminate direct threats to its national security. For example,
Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014 (H.R. 4587) says in its preamble (highlight mine):

To impose targeted sanctions on persons responsible for violations of human rights of antigovernment protesters in Venezuela, to strengthen civil society in Venezuela, and for other purposes.

Subsequently, the US President signed and issued a presidential order declaring Venezuela a threat to its national security. — Reuters.

Soon after that, the dictator has denounced the sanctions as the US' attempt to oppress his bright and shiny socialist economy:

“President Barack Obama ... has personally decided to take on the task of defeating my government and intervening in Venezuela to control it,” Maduro said in a televised address.

Someone who hears this speech may be confused into thinking that the US pursues Venezuela because it is Communist.


Summary

Throughout its entire history, the Communism has been used as a disguise for brutal dictatorships.

There are reasons why the dictatorships prefer being Communist states.

The US' goal is not to overthrow other countries' economic system of manual redistribution of its wealth; instead, the goal is to eliminate threats to the American national security and stop the violation of human rights.

  • Lots of comments deleted. Please don't use comments for political discussions. For more information on what comments should and should not be used for, please check the help article on the commenting privilege. – Philipp Feb 14 at 16:40
  • 7
    The Nordic model is correctly called "Social Democratic", not Socialist. The fact that people frequently water down the definition of "socialism" to mean any kind of tax and redistribution or welfare state shouldn't mean we get lazy with such definitions on a site dedicated to political discussion. – Grimm The Opiner Feb 15 at 9:42
  • @JyrkiLahtonen, thanks, corrected my wording. – bytebuster Feb 15 at 22:35
  • 9
    "Stop the violation if human rights" is highly debatable considering the USA's support of repressive regimes who utterly disregard human rights. Saudi Arabia being a good recent example. – JS Lavertu Feb 16 at 0:09
  • @JSLavertu, this does not deny anything in my answer. So you believe that the US is a hypocrite, e.g. it claims to be a democratic state but it supports undemocratic Saudi Arabia. Okay then, now you should also suppose that the US is hypocrite enough to make an unfair preference by supporting some dictatorships while at the same opposing other dictatorships. Does it make sense? – bytebuster yesterday
6

The direct answer would be:

Trade. If countries follow communist or socialist ideas, trading with them will be less free. Also it will disable American companies in investing in those countries.

Which leads me to the main essence of this issue:

The USA are in fact a Plutocracy, which means the government is exclusively made out of the rich people / the top 5% of the population. So it will act within the interests of rich people and companies. Socialist regimes tend to nationalize companies and factories, etc... This contradicts the interest of the American (plutocratic) government, as even if the politicians themselves aren't affected by the socialist acts, their friends and/or sponsors may be.

This is also the difference between Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. While both countries are humanitarian catastrophes, one is an ally and the other is considered bad. Venezuela also has the largest oil reserves (their known resources have more than tripled over the last 8 years), making them important for most powerful industries. Right now, those oil reserves are in the hand of the Venezuelan government, so they dictate what is happening with the oil. And that's the problem with the dictator being socialist.

Kissinger is known for his quote: "Control oil and you control nations; control food and you control the people." This still is the case today.

Known oil reserves List of known oil reserves

This is a US election that defies logic and brings the nation closer towards a one-party state masquerading as a two-party state. To the election of 2012

Additional information to politics and economy, the "political compass"

  • 4
    You will likely need to back up some of your assertions about American plutocracy if this answer is to succeed. Also, Venezuela has the most oil? I’d like to see a source on that—obviously both Venezuela and Saudi Arabia are oil-rich countries, but I thought Saudi Arabia was more so. – KRyan Feb 12 at 13:44
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    The US isn't a plutocracy, not even close. Haiti, under Papa Doc, the Philippines under Marcos were both plutocracies. There are many people in the US who's annual earnings are at the 50% level who own a nice house and drive a nice car and have a good life. Plutocracy involves taking. (And the more we grow the government the more we will grow plutocracy so the trend is not good.) – Mayo Feb 12 at 14:36
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    Well, technically the US fullfills all criteria for a plutocracy. "Rule of/Power to the money". In the US, all the power is held by the rich. So for what reason it is not? I'm interested. – miep Feb 12 at 14:39
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    @Dunk The rich people with all the power are the members of congress (most of whom are millionaires), business leaders, and all their friends in the old boys network (which includes some women too nowadays). It's rather the 0.01% than the 1% (which would still be 3 million people) though. – gerrit Feb 14 at 9:08
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    @Dunk This statement is utter blindness from reality. Do you know how much money you need to become president of the US? It's an 8-digit number. Till now, every time the presidential candidate who put more money electioneering won the election. Additionally the US are no real democracy by definition, as the elections are neither direct nor equal. The whole system leads to plutocracy. If you think otherwise, then tell me how you would become president of the US without having millions to spend? – miep Feb 14 at 23:33
4

It's about narrative. The ones who bend over nicely and spread well in their trade relations with the US will not be labeled socialist or communist. If they don't, well then they'll enter the danger zone of being called socialist or communist.

Word "socialist" or "communist" if it comes out the mouth of an American simply only means "someone who doesn't do what we want them to do". It stopped meaning what it actually means a looong time ago.

3

Let's look at some history.

According to Wikipedia, during the Cold War, the USSR had tens of thousands of nuclear weapons. The primary target was of course the United States. Furthermore, there were incidents where, had things gone a bit differently, the weapons might have been used. In particular, there was the Cuban Missile Crisis and the lesser-known but possibly-more-dangerous 1983 Soviet nuclear false alarm.

More recently, Kim Jong un repeatedly threatened a nuclear attack on the United States.

Additionally, socialist countries have a habit of producing major refugee crises. The current Venezuela crisis is only the latest example. See also the Mariel Boatlift and the Zimbabwe refugees.

In short, socialist countries tend to cause a lot of problems not only for their own people, but also for everyone else.

Lastly, I would argue that the most important question for humans is whether or not we will succeed in expanding beyond the Earth. Obviously nuclear wars and refugee crises won't help with that.

  • 10
    All three points you bring have also been caused by capitalist countries. That kinda nullifies your argument... The statement "In short, capitalist countries tend to cause a lot of problems not only for their own people, but also for everyone else." is equally valid. – JS Lavertu Feb 12 at 15:06
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    This answer doesn't address the question at all, but falls victim to a simple fallacy: If you don't have the answer to a tricky question, simply answer an easier one instead. – Tom Feb 15 at 8:08
0

I think US interest in Venezuela has less to do with it being socialist, or for altruistic reasons, or "freedom" (#rollseyes). It has more to do with regional security.

The country has experienced a sudden exodus of over 1 million people, already having a destabilizing effect in Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador.

Sooner or later refugees will come to our borders (and you know how "welcoming" we are of refugees, that was sarcasm btw.)

At least that's how I see our government looking at the Venezuelan crisis. As for other socialists or communist countries (there are no communist countries left, btw), I don't think we quite give a hoot about them as long as they don't pose a destabilization risk.

And any type of intervention in the past must be seen in the context of the Cold War (and an amoral affinity for cold-blooded dictators wherever it suited our foreign policy, something we have thankfully grown out of... somewhat.)

  • Hawaii capturing/Cuban incident with US cruiser(which leads to agression and nearly 100-years of US protectorate) in XIX century are, of course, also parts of the cold war... – user2501323 yesterday
  • The capture of Hawaii is most certainly not part of the Cold War. What the whaaaaat???? – luis.espinal yesterday
  • Just about your claims: "any type of intervention in the past must be seen in the context of the Cold War". Sarcasm that was.) – user2501323 yesterday
  • And "destabilization risk"? Destabilization of what? According to intervention number, US is the far most destabilizing power in the whole world.) – user2501323 yesterday

protected by Philipp Feb 14 at 16:24

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