Apparently the American embargo and blockade of Cuba have worked so well that
Axios is calling it President Trump's Venezuela naval blockade "obsession" based on accounts of unnamed administration officials: "President Trump has suggested to national security officials that the U.S. should station Navy ships along the Venezuelan coastline to prevent goods from coming in and out of the country, according to 5 current and former officials who have either directly heard the president discuss the idea or have been briefed on Trump's private comments," according to a new.
He's said to have repeatedly raised the idea in private as a way to finally deliver regime change in Caracas, after prior attempts - including a short-lived push for military coup - failed earlier this year. Supposedly, the plan would be to station US Navy ships along the coast such that all vessels would be blocked from entering or exiting the South American country.
I am trying to think of an example of an authoritarian regime brought down by a blockade or embargo, and I am struggling to do so. We have embargoed the Cubans for 60 years and the communists still sit there merrily running that county. We have embargoed Iran off and on for 40 years and yet essentially the same regime is in power. And don't even get me started on the 1940 embargo of Japan**. The closest I can come is the fall of apartheid South Africa, though that was never a full embargo -- it was more of an international public shaming that worked in part for the reason that the people of South African remained engaged with the world in trade and other matters. Also I think giving too much credit to international players for the changes in South Africa is to reduce the agency, persistence, and bravery of the internal opposition.
I will say that an attempted blockade of Venezuela will definitely have three entirely predictable outcomes
- It will hurt the citizens who we are trying to help
- It will give Marxist apologists an excuse for Venezuela's economic disaster (ie "it wasn't socialism, it was the evil American blockade)
- It will lead to unnecessary confrontations with other countries. What happens the first time the US Navy puts a shot across the bow of a French or Russian or Chinese merchant ship?
I have a strong bias towards engagement as a palliative for authoritarian regimes. Let their folks interact with the quasi-free West long enough and pressure will come for change. You know who agrees with me? The leaders of North Korea, which is why they would rather live in the Middle Ages than allow their folks any interaction with the West.
** Postscript: Readers might respond that the wartime embargo of Japan was extremely effective. Eventually the US Navy was able to strangle the Japanese economy. This indeed was effective at reducing the Japanese warmaking ability, at the cost of abject misery for much of the Japanese people. But note that it never even came close to forcing a regime change. Only the American atomic bombs combined with the Russian declaration of war eventually (barely) led to Japanese surrender.