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What if Chavez Isn’t Bluffing About War with Colombia?

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Hugo Chavez is making news again, this time threatening war with Colombia (a U.S. ally) over the assassination of terrorist elements that have taken refuge in Ecuador. The facts aren't quite known, but it is alleged the Colombia sent military forces into Ecuador to attack members of the FARC, a terrorist group that has been staging attacks in Colombia and taking hostages (it is currently holding three U.S. citizens, for instance).

In what was considered a bizarre response, Chavez ordered several battalions to the border with Colombia and has threatened all-out war with the country. Ecuador is understandably upset, but many attribute Chavez's latest media-grabbing stunt as more saber-waving from a dictator who craves international attention for "standing up to U.S. imperialism." There are important reasons to take Chavez's threats at face value, but first some background.

United States Military Doctrine

Since the 1990s, the United States Armed Forces have held various iterations of a win-win doctrine. The current version of the doctrine (the 4-2-1 strategy) states that the United States will maintain the capability to "conduct two, overlapping 'swift defeat' campaigns… [and] the force must be able to 'win decisively' in one of the two campaigns". In layman's terms, this means the United States has set up its military to win two medium-sized wars simultaneously.

It is also important to note that the United States military debates its over-reaching strategy out in the open for the world to see. Not a single spy is needed to determine how we structure our military and with what aims in mind. A foreign agent can pick up any number of academic journals, surf the various public military and government websites, or read the many books written on the subject. No security clearance is needed. Other countries know full well what we design our military to do and conversely know what limitations we build into our system.

One can look at the current situation of the U.S. military and see how this strategy has worked (albeit not without bumps). The military is engaged in operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq and achieving successes in both countries. The only area where improvement has not been substantial is in the area of nation-building, particularly, getting the native populations to take responsibility for their own political destiny. The lack of will for U.S. imperialism has come at a price.

The current situation shows that the strategy can work and is working. Al Qaeda in Iraq is essentially no more. However, it has also shown that it engages a large proportion of the resources available to the United States military that can be used for war-fighting. The preventative operations still continue, sure, but it is less than clear that the United States could, without significant difficulty, engage in a third conflict; much less a fourth conflict.

The Foreign Policy Objectives of China and Russia

In the sense of power distribution, international relations is similar to a zero-sum game. When one nation loses power, some other nation or nations gain power. The inverse is also true; when a nation gains power, it comes at the expense of another. When the USSR collapsed, the United States largely gained the power that was left on the table. This has been a point of consternation for some time for the former world power.

On the other hand, China, which has never been a superpower, does overtly crave such a status. In order to achieve such a status, the United States would have to relinquish or lose some of its current power. This leaves China and Russia as partners in a similar quest, to gain international power at the expense of the United States, the only country which that power must come from.

As an additional sideshow, there are a variety of powers across the globe that would cheer at the prospect of an American military embarrassment (no small number are European). Many lay commentators cheer on Russia and China, who criticize America's foreign policy, including commentators in the United States. One ought not to be naïve to think that these nations which murder journalists and dissidents, repress speech, and shun the rule of law inside their own borders are suddenly acting with the purity of wind-driven snow once on the international stage.

Currently, both Russia and China have ties with Venezuela (that include Russia shipping military goods to Venezuela). Russia also has historical ties with Serbia and has been a vocal supporter of Serbia against the independence of Kosovo. Currently, both areas are now volatile with Chavez's threats on one side and antagonistic behavior by Serbia on the other. Kosovo and Colombia, on the other hand, are US foreign policy commitments to continue to support those countries.

As an important counterpoint, there are elements in China and Russia that do not see eye-to-eye with the hostile-to-the-US foreign policy. They are minorities but they are the ones with money. Many of the largest businesses in both countries are beneficiaries of the American economy and thus have a vested interest in the status quo.

Could Chavez Be Serious?

Currently, the United States economy is in trouble; there is broad consensus on that at this point. Bad lending is never a good thing for an economy. Full-on economic collapses are usually combinations of multiple factors, bad lending often being one. So if Chavez isn't serious, he, along with Russia and China, is quite stupid. That is a presumption we ought not to make.

The United States military is structured to win two conflicts simultaneously. If both Kosovo and Colombia-Venezuela go hot, even militarily we would be stretched thin, if not to the breaking point. Odds are we would face the choice of sacrificing one or the other to avoid "losing" a war. With forces already on the ground in Kosovo under the auspices of NATO, we would likely have no choice but to fight in that conflict. Colombia, on the other hand, would be very easy to leave out to dry.

If forced to fight in both additional conflicts, it would provide an enormous additional strain on an already troubled economy. Drastic funding choices would have to be made to support the resources required to fight in all four conflicts simultaneously independent of the number of troops consideration. It is entirely possible that it could push an economy on the brink of recession into a full-on recession. Or for that matter, push an economy in a recession into a far worse economic position.

If China and Russia want to take definitive action to ensure American power is decreased, all they have to do is stoke the flames of conflict in Kosovo and Colombia. American political debate is focused on the superficials; no real political movement would support retaliatory action for subtle actions by Russia and China to provoke other nations to pick fights. In short, there would be little political cost to Russia and China in provoking these fights while there is everything to gain.

The only counterbalancing effect is whether those nations would prefer to ride on America's economic coattails or if they'd rather see American foreign power decline to their advantage. With the economic troubles America is facing, it becomes increasingly tempting to think those economic coattails aren't as long as they once seemed. Time will tell which trains of thought will win out.

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About John Bambenek

John Bambenek is a political activist and computer security expert. He has his own company Bambenek Consulting in Champaign, IL that specializes in digital forensics and computer security investigations.
  • cskendrick

    Russia has taken the position that so things go in Kosovo, so they will go elsewhere – that they’ll recognize breakaway provinces when it suits them at a time of their choosing and nobody better complain about it when they do. Now is not their time to be belligerent; they are a least 10-15 years away from reconstituting their force structure.

    China is further ahead on that score, and will perhaps be in position to assert its preferences more vigorously in 5-10 years.

    Neither, right now, has much advantage in pressing for a fight, and handing the Americans an excuse to solidify further control of two areas that neither can contend with.

    At the end of the day, I’d be more worried about Pakistan melting down, still. That remains the Big Scary Place on the world map.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    John,

    Good article.

    You could have simply pointed out that the Chavez is like a cat’s paw for Russia and China, as is Iran, and the two Eurasian powers are applying Reagan’s strategy of forcing an enemy to over-extend himself against us.

    Kossovo is one place, Iran is another, and South America is a third. Eventually, the Americans gotta choose where to lose.

    Of course, you managed to ignore Pakistan, which can melt down at any minute, and the fact that a war appears to be starting here.

    Go pick up your Bible ans start reading Ezekiel 38 and 39, and the last couple of chapters of the book of Zecharia. You may notice some disturbing similarities….

  • Anon

    I miss the days when the CIA would engineer regime changes against rogue regimes. Chavez needs to be taken out or he will become the next Castro and be a headache for another 60 years. Unlike Cuba though, Venezuela has oil and that is a great blackmailing tool.
    Doesn’t the CIA assasinate people anymore?! Hell get the Israelis to do it. They have mastered that art in recent years, while the CIA is busy filling out paperwork for the Congress and contemplating what is torture and what isnt.

  • Clavos

    John,

    You don’t mention the role the OAS will assuredly play in this little scenario.

    If Chavez moves across the border into Colombia, he will lose a lot of support, for which he has paid literally billions of dollars; the OAS will censure him.

    He has clearly demonstrated in the past that his primary goal is to buils an anti-US consensus in Latin America, and he’s been industriously working toward that goal.

    If he moves into Colombia, the nations he’s been courting so assiduously that are still allied with the US will shun him. Those countries, chiefly Mexico, Chile, and to a lesser degree, Brazil, are the powers in that arena; he’s smart enough to know he can’t afford to alienate them and still continue to build his dream of hegemony over the region.

    He’s saber-rattling, IMO.

  • The Surly Mermaid

    I’m not sure how important it is as to whether the United States can send its army into Colombia or not. Colombia’s army is currently over twice the size of the combined armies of both Venezuela and Ecuador, is much better equipped and trained, and has US funding if not actual manpower. Tack on the fact that Venezuela is facing massive food shortages and gets a good chunk of its food from its neighbour Colombia, and you have Chavez full of hot air as usual.

    What’s really happening here in my opinion is that Chavez is throwing up a smokescreen. He recently lost a vote to extend his regime indefinitely, and is losing local popularity by the minute as his people are starting to feel the impacts of food shortages, healthcare deficiencies, and a host of program funding issues. His tactic in the past has been to draw attention to international issues that he has no business being in in order to divert attention from the problems at home, and that’s exactly what’s happening here.

  • Clavos

    Surly Mermaid (great moniker, that!),

    I agree. It’s a smokescreen, and also an attempt to show his supporters he’s still in control.

  • http://www.parttimepundit.com John Bambenek

    Re: cskendrick

    That’s the upside for China and Russia, they don’t have to be beligerant, they simply get Serbia and Venezuela to carry the water, and they reap the benefits of other people’s blood.

    Re: Pakistan

    Left it out because it didn’t fit in with the China-Russia angle I was going for. Pakistan’s problems are more-or-less internal (but sure foreign powers will manipulate).

    Re: OAS

    For the time being, the OAS appears to be on Chavez’s side, the didn’t like the concept of a border incursion by Colombia. It may change depending on what Uribe gives the ICC, but Chavez simply has to manufacture an excuse and the OAS at best will stay neutral. If Colombia, painted as a US pet, can be shown to have violated Venezuelan borders, Chavez can play victim and anti-US zealot and it passes the smell test.

    Re: Surly

    I’d concede Colombia has a better trained Army and more toys, but the troop-count argument doesn’t take into account the paramilitaries that would also play if there was a border war.

    It’s also just as possible that it is saber-rattling to drum up support too. That’s the tricky part, you only really know in hindsight.

  • zingzing

    john, i’ve been reading your stuff for a couple of years now, and this is the second time i’ve had to say you presented a fairly well researched opinion. somehow though, i’d bet this is more complicated than it seems. right now, it looks totally illogical and very machismo. colombia, hopefully, can take care of itself. kosovo… well, i dunno. russia is always dangerous in that unstable (with nukes) kinda way. hopefully that one doesn’t boil over.

    still, you must admit that chavez learned his shit pretty well from the good ol’ presidential office of the good ol’ u.s. of a.. when trouble comes up internally, just create a little external trouble, or, the bill clinton method. (not that that wasn’t complicated as well.)

    ok, now for my one complaint: why’d you but “losing” in quotes? (as in, “[the u.s.] would face the choice of sacrificing one or the other to avoid “losing” a war.”) when’s the last time we “won” a war? the persian gulf? nah, we kinda just delayed that one. all i got to say is that if we go whole-hog into either of these, god forbid both… we’re gonna get our ass and our economy handed to us. (which is what you say.)

    but why the quotes?

  • http://www.google.com RJ

    A couple points about a hypothetical Venezuela-Colombia war:

    First, while Colombia’s military is larger, more experienced, more professional, and receives a large amount of aid and assistance from the US, Venezuela has the advantage in the skies, thanks to recent purchases of high-tech aircraft from the Soviets Russians. I can’t say how important that would be in a conflict between the two nations, but I thought it was worth pointing out.

    Second, Venezuela doesn’t need to actually invade Colombia to cause them serious grief; they only need to provide further assistance to the their already in-country proxies, the FARC. Besides being incredibly murderous terrorists, the FARC also has a large and experienced fighting force (they’ve been fighting a guerrilla war against the government for over four decades now).

    Oh, and third, what if the leftist Chavez ally in power in Ecuador (Rafael Correa) decides to open up a second front? Ecuador by itself is no match for Colombia militarily, but even relatively minor incursions or skirmishes on their southern border could distract Colombia’s military, and force them to divert resources from their eastern (Venezuelan) front.

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    Always good to have a reminder that Hugo is on the side of terrorists everywhere and against the welfare of the people.

    Dave

  • Franco

    Oh the webs we weave……….

    Chavez had claimed that he had never supported the FARC. An amazing video of Chavez’s Nov. 9, 2004, speech, which you can see on YouTube, shows the Venezuelan president saying, “I don’t support, I have never supported nor will I ever support the Colombian guerrillas, nor any subversive movement against any democratic government. I swear to God and to my sacred mother”

    Colombia’s attack on the FARC camp in Ecuador will gradually fade from the spot light as the evedence rises in the light which Chavez’s hands being caught in $300 million dollar support effort for Colombian terrorists. This is and will become center stage.

    As we speak, Chavez starts to pay his cards…………

    Hugo Chavez, started to plan for economic havoc in both nations in response to a Colombian military attack on rebels hiding in Ecuador. Venezuela is now starting to block billions of dollars in Colombian imports and investment.

    Chavez said Venezuela will search for other countries like Ecuador, Brazil and Argentina to replace products imported from Colombia. Noting that Colombia traditional supplies food to Venezuela, he said now “we can’t depend (on Colombia) not even for a grain of rice.”

    Though Chavez supporters express confidence they will quickly find replacements for Colombian goods, government critics says the move will worsen what is already shortages of basic foods from milk to chicken.

    Without the influx of low-cost food from Colombia hunger will very soon began to rear is ugly head even more in Venezuela. The true test for Chavez now as he plays this card, is to convice the poor who will suffer most, that it is all the fault of the empire.

    If he can sussefully shift his own failing in meeting the basic food needs and can redirect their attention off of him and onto Colombia via US as the cause, he has accompled his goals. How powerfully fun if must be for him to play with the poor in such a way.

    The narcissist-Leninist leader is seeking to create an international conflict that he hopes will justify his plans to stay in power indefinitely that he sees as only being temporallay disrupted in his Dec. 2 electoral defeat. Chavez will not let the people stand in his way.

    Other recent events.

    Colombia’s FARC guerrillas have threatened to start kidnapping Panamanian politicians and police after officers from Panama arrested six rebels

    A Russian man believed to be one of the world’s leading illegal arms dealers was arrested in Thailand today on suspicion of supplying weapons to a Colombian rebel group. Viktor Bout, accused by both the UN and Amnesty International of flouting arms.

  • Franco

    A “senior Colombian intelligence source” claimed that Colombia was able to pinpoint FARC chief Raul Reyes’ location because of a phone call made to his satellite phone by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

    If true, this would have a certain irony (and perhaps also explain why Chavez is so angry – also the source claims Chavez mobilized to protect the ailing FARC founder Manuel Marulanda who is convalescing on a ranch in Venezuela near the Colombian border.)

    Colombia’s vice-president denounces alliances
    Colombian vice-president Francisco Santos Calderón told European Union chief diplomat Javier Solana that it is imperative to take bold actions to put an end to the aid that, according to him, Venezuela provides to the guerrilla.

    “The commitment of Hugo Chávez’s government to the FARC, which is evident, clear and for the first time proven, must be an issue of public, international discussion,” Santos said following a meeting with Solana.

    As long as this close relation prevails -in which funding, shelter and political and economic support are provided- Colombia will resort to all the legal and political, but not military, mechanisms to combat the guerrilla.

    The vice-president said that the alleged “alliance” between Chávez and the FARC is a “continental project” that entails a long range “threat.”

    “It is an ideological, military and political project that uses violence with the aim of imposing their vision of the world over the democratic dictates,” Santos said about the link between Venezuela and the guerrilla groups.

    Santos made a difference between Venezuela and Ecuador, declaring that while relations with Quito may be recovered, it will be “very difficult” to reach a diplomatic solution with Caracas.

  • Franco

    Viktor Bout, arrested Wednesday in Bangkok, was charged with conspiring to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons — including surface-to-air missiles — to Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or FARC, a designated foreign terrorist organization, the Justice Department said Thursday.

    The indictment alleges that Bout and associate Andrew Smulian agreed to sell to FARC millions of dollars worth of weapons.

  • troll

    let ‘em burn those munitions so we can sell ‘em more more more

    a profiteers delight if you ask me

  • Bennett

    troll: damn, you’re bad.

    Franco, thanks for the detailed updates.

  • Clavos

    Trouble is:

    They’re buyin’ ‘em from the Russkies, not us.

    Maybe we could undersell the Ivans?

  • troll

    Columbia – ?

  • troll

    “o”

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Chavez declared war on Columbia University after they dissed his friend Ahmadinejad.

  • troll

    …dreadful

  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ Elliott

    I have a leftist friend who absolutely loves Chavez. This incident and its aftermath has given me the opportunity to rub facts and reality in his smarmy face.

    Of course, being a fact-averse leftist, he dismisses the articles I cite, claiming he “doesn’t have the time” to read “that shit,” and so he continues to be an apologist for Chavez. (His argument is basically that Chavez hates Bush, and he hates Bush, so therefore Chavez can’t be that bad of a guy. Seriously.) And hilariously, he even defends the FARC’s widespread use of child soldiers, among other atrocities.

    Some people just refuse to wake up. It’s sad, really.

  • Clavos

    Proving himself to be a bigger man than either of his two leftist counterparts, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe yesterday strode across the hall at the twentieth Rio Group Summit Conference in Santo Domingo to shake Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa’s hand and apologize for Colombia’s incursion into Ecuador while chasing FARC rebels last week.

    Uribe’s gesture followed a heated exchange about the border-crossing incident between himself, Correa, and Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez.

    The rapprochement, brokered by Dominican President Leonel Fernandez, puts an end to the Latin American crisis, which had been building since Chavez’s massing of troops and tanks on the Colombian border last Saturday.

    Said the Miami Herald:

    “The end of the crisis came as the Colombian defense ministry announced the death of another member of the nine-member FARC secretariat — one with a $5 million U.S. bounty on his head.”

  • troll

    what spin…another way to look at it is that the ‘crisis’ had been building since Uribe’s incursion into Ecuador

    ‘rapprochement’…another chance for creative destruction down the tubes

  • Clavos

    Talk about spin!

    Uribe’s “incursion” was chasing FARC guerillas who are trying to overthrow his legally elected government, and who are being given sanctuary (a gross and blatant violation of international law) in Ecuador by Correa and in Venezuela by Chango Chavez.

    You’re a pretty good spinner yourself, troll.

  • troll

    …are we sure about that ‘giving sanctuary’ claim or is it more like the AQ/Pakistan relationship – ?

    and frankly – I don’t have a dog in the fight…they’re all assholes imo

  • Clavos

    C’mon troll!

    The FARCs were in Ecuador, nobody disputes that; that’s why Colombia was accused of an “incursion.”

    Correa wasn’t kicking them out; he had been leaving them alone for years.

    That is, by definition, giving sanctuary.

    And not surprising; leftist guerillas hiding out in a country with a leftist leader.

    If the FARCs had been US troops, Correa would have been screaming like a wounded eagle to the OAS, UN, and anybody who would listen.

    But he never said a word about the FARCs…

  • troll

    so – you’d say that Pakistan is giving AQ sanctuary…making it more or less officially a ‘terrorist state’ – ?

    (gotta go trim a few horses…I’ll be back to argue later)