Marco Rubio has been at the forefront of the movement pushing the United States to intervene in Venezuela to remove Nicolas Maduro. While there is growing consensus that Maduro needs to leave office, what that looks like and what role, if any, the United States and International community has in encouraging that result is debatable.
What Marco Rubio did today goes far beyond that debate. I would rather not link to it because of its distasteful image, but the Senator tweeted a picture of Maduro followed by a picture of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi when he was captured by Libyan forces opposed to his government.
First, let’s state the somewhat obvious: Both Maduro and Gaddafi are bad people who inflicted cruelties on their citizens. That’s a problem, and it’s not wrong to want to see better leadership in those countries. What Rubio is insinuating by trying to draw a line between these two cases, though, is morally and pragmatically wrong.
As a Country, one of our founding principles is due process. Our constitution enshrines the right to a fair trial and certain protections under our legal system, even if someone has committed heinous wrongs. You will never see me standing up for our intervention in Iraq, but look at what happened to Saddam Hussein once he was captured by U.S. forces. He was granted a trial in Iraq, and was only executed after being rightly found guilty of crimes that, in the judgment of the court, warranted the death penalty. Extrajudicial vigilantism without due process, such as happened to Gaddafi, is never something we should encourage. This is especially true when the act is happening by the side of a conflict that, rightly or wrongly, the United States is perceived to be supporting. We should never want to lose our moral standing, even when launched into the middle of conflicts against despots.
It’s not just our moral standing that makes this a horrible statement from the Senator, though. For Rubio, this decision makes it very harder to encourage the United States and the International community to make decisions to attempt to force Maduro’s hand. I personally don’t think we should intervene in Venezuela beyond economic means and diplomacy. If you’re Rubio, though, and you are attempting to persuade decision makers, the worst message you can send is that Venezuelan intervention would be the 2nd Libya, only in the Western Hemisphere. Libya has largely gotten worse since Gaddafi was removed from office. Lawless radicals control the country, and no respect for human rights exists. If you’re a Republican in the United States trying to increase pressure on the Venezuelan government, your worst message is that Venezuela will fall into unmanageable chaos, quality of life will decrease, and instability will trigger an even greater migratory crisis at our Southern border. By comparing this case to Libya, that is essentially the message being sent.
Beyond the impact on decision-makers, though, Rubio’s recklessness also harms the situation inside Venezuela. His tweet essentially sends the message that the United States government wishes to see Maduro executed in the worst way possible. This dissuades his government from being potentially receptive to a diplomatic solution, and sends the message that war is inevitable. This will lead the government to purse greater harms against civilians and anyone perceived to be with the opposition in order to attempt to strengthen their situation. Life will become worse for the people of Venezuela, all because of one hothead Senator.
Nicolas Maduro is not a good leader, and all of us should be hoping for a peaceful transfer of power to new leadership in Venezuela. Rubio’s message today, though, makes that significantly less likely. We must not let anti-democratic forces elsewhere cause to lose our democratic values, and we must do our best to avoid a 2nd Libya happening in Venezuela. Hopefully more responsible leaders of all political stripes in our government will take heed and implement responsible policy and messaging to attempt to bring the best possible result in a bad situation.