US interventionism in Venezuela: A story of duplicity

It is evident from the nomination of Elliott Abrams as US special envoy for Venezuela that re-establishing democracy is not the expected outcome

US interventionism in Venezuela: A story of duplicity

By Tarek Cherkaoui

The writer is Manager at TRT World Research Centre and the author of “The News Media at War: The Clash of Western and Arab Networks in the Middle East.” Dr. Cherkaoui is an expert in the field of strategic communications.


On Feb. 5, 2003, the then U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell presented his country’s rationale for the Iraq War at the UN Security Council. Back then, the quasi-majority of American mainstream media journalists failed to question whether Saddam Hussein supported Al Qaeda or possessed weapons of mass destruction. These shapers of public opinion tended to push the White House narrative indisputably and adopted the justifications that this war was necessary for eliminating terrorism and promoting democracy.

The Iraq war proved to be a big mistake. It caused thousands of American casualties and drained billions of dollars from U.S. taxpayers for the sole benefit of few corporations. It was also a crime against the Iraqi nation; the U.S. invasion destroyed millions of lives and shattered the Iraqi infrastructure and economy so badly that the rebuilding and restoration efforts will take decades. However, mainstream U.S. media organizations, more often than not, participated in the patriotic gung-ho, and acted as sheer conduits of information warfare that paved the way for military operations.

Sixteen years later, the drums of war are beating again. This time, the U.S. presidency has Venezuela in the cross hairs, plotting to topple the government of Nicolas Maduro in Caracas. What’s more, the White House is bringing up the “democracy’s repertoire” again, even though this rhetoric was not among Trump’s favorite themes. Nevertheless, John Bolton, the national security advisor, and one of the tenors of the Trump administration, has also blatantly promoted the anti-Venezuela action as a campaign to take control of the Venezuelan oil for the benefit of U.S. corporations.

The Trump administration shaped such a dual discourse to score a double dunk. On the one hand, the pro-democracy narrative targets the Democrats’ electoral base and forces the party’s leadership to side with the White House on the Venezuelan issue. However, knowing that several emerging leaders among the progressive wing of the Democrats are generally opposed to waging costly wars overseas, this subject will cause severe frictions within the Democratic Party.

On the other hand, the U.S. administration is using the language of economic profiteering, which targets hard-core Republicans. The appointment of Elliott Abrams, one of the planners of the U.S. dirty wars in Central America in the 1980s, as the architect of the putsch against the legitimate power in Venezuela is also a message to the Trump base that the gunboat diplomacy and the Monroe Doctrine is back, and this is what will make “America great again”.

There are countless problems with both narratives, but the greatest irony comes from the first one. The Trump administration did not pay lip service to democracy in the past two years. In Egypt, when a military coup overthrew the first democratically elected government in Egyptian history, the U.S. and other Western governments provided their full support to the junta. The U.S. provided aid, funding, and weaponry, even when the military’s human rights abuses reached unparalleled levels. In April 2017, when Trump welcomed General Abdel Fattah el-Sissi to the White House and rolled out the red carpet for him, the U.S. president stated: “I just want to let everybody know, in case there was any doubt, that we are very much behind President el-Sissi.” The fact that el-Sissi met Trump five times in two years says a lot about the U.S. president’s priorities, and restoring democracy is clearly not one of them.

Beyond irony, the U.S. mainstream news media rarely challenged the U.S. Administration’s policies regarding the el-Sissi regime in Egypt. The ensuing supportive pattern of coverage of the Egyptian junta mirrors, once more, the Herman and Chomsky model (1988), which uncovered the existence of several layers within the U.S. news media that filter out news in accordance with the interests of U.S. corporations and powerful political entities.

As the mainstream media salvo is underway against Venezuela, U.S. news outlets, for the most part, fail again to address the holes in the White House’s rhetoric: Who is subverting democracy in Caracas? Who is backing a self-styled "interim president" in Venezuela who has not been elected? Who is trying to sabotage the country's economy? Who has been imposing excruciating economic sanctions against Caracas for many years?

If these questions are not sufficient to draw clear-cut conclusions, it is evident, though, from the nomination of Elliott Abrams as America’s special envoy for Venezuela that re-establishing democracy is not the expected outcome. The choice of Abrams, who has partaken in some of the most grisly acts of U.S. foreign policy in the past decades, means only one thing: brutality and systematic abuse of human rights will be the result.

It is time for the mainstream U.S. media to reflect on the kind of journalism they seek to deliver. Are they “watchdogs” that uphold higher journalistic ethos and expose any falsehoods propagated by political and economic elites on behalf of the public, or are they “lapdogs” that knowingly spread disinformation to serve warmongers and economic profiteers? Whatever path they decide to follow, they have to understand that they cannot be both.

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