Newsflash, The New York Times, March 31, 2020:
As the coronavirus pandemic brings the world to a juddering halt and anxious citizens demand action, leaders across the globe are invoking executive powers and seizing virtually dictatorial authority with scant resistance. . . . As the new laws broaden state surveillance, allow governments to detain people indefinitely and infringe on freedoms of assembly and expression, they could also shape civic life, politics and economies for decades to come.
The presidents of the United States and Venezuela share an important condition, both have been investigated by the office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Since his interim appointment in 2018, that man is Geoffrey Berman. Donald Trump has avoided an indictment from Mr. Berman for one simple reason: He’s president of the United States and Mr. Trump’s attorney general says a US president can’t be indicted by his own Justice Department. That attorney general, William Barr, is known far and wide, of course, for the low-bar, rotten smell that accompanies the legal work he does in support of his president. In the Times story, he’s cited for his efforts to encourage detentions and the elimination of habeas corpus for certain people.
[ The self-declared US war president, his legal sidekick, William Barr, and the “previous” president of Venezuela, Nicholas Maduro, telling his generals to keep their eyes peeled for a sneaky US attack. ]
The latest indictment from the Southern District of New York (officially known as S2 11 Cr. 205 AKH) was recently announced by Mr. Barr. It names the current President of Venezuela as a drug-running violent criminal. Except the document really doesn’t refer to him as the president; it refers to him as “a Venezuelan citizen [who] was previously the president of Venezuela, and is now the de facto ruler of the country.”
Here’s how it seems to work: The Southern District’s crack attorney Geoffrey Berman works for the slippery Bill Barr who works for The White House Reality Show superstar Donald Trump who on January 23, 2019 (with the guidance of Iran-Contra ex-con Elliot Abrams, who cooks up nefarious actions against Venezuela from somewhere in the dank basement of the State Department) declared a 35-year-old named Juan Guaido (pronounced why-doe) as the “interim president of Venezuela.” Though not a full-fledged member of the opposition-controlled National Assembly (he was an alternate deputy), because he was young, handsome and American educated, Guaido was installed as the body’s president 18 days before Trump declared in a brief White House announcement to the world that he had promoted Guaido. The US president quoted Guaido as saying this: “Violence is the usurper’s weapon; we only have one clear action: to remain united and firm for a democratic and free Venezuela.” At this point, it would be understandable that after learning from news reports that he had suddenly become the “previous president of Venezuela,” Nicholas Maduro Moros might be justified in thinking that this young “Interim President” Guaido was, in fact, the true “usurper.” But don’t be fooled; that’s how your average commie thinks.
Why do I feel I’ve seen this movie before?
[ Elliot Abrams, the State Department’s special hybrid warrior focused on Venezuela, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and “Interim” Venezuelan President Juan Guaido being presidential. ]
What’s really interesting about this episode of the White House Reality Show is that the federal indictment of Mr. Maduro puts Interim President Guaido in the same class of official as US Attorney Berman. Both gentlemen are designated in their respective roles by Donald Trump as part of a growing stable of “interim” officials. As a sign of these globalized, internet-saturated times, the list seems to be going international; the fact Interim President Guaido lives in Venezuela doesn’t really matter, since geography is one thing, but everything else is now connected via wires, radio-beams and algorithms. Borders are only important when you want to keep certain unsavory people like poor Mexicans and Hondurans out of the country; otherwise, borders are features of yesteryear, and the fact is, the best of humanity is connected by money.
The interim tag is a little like what they used to say about women: keep ‘em barefoot and pregnant, always on their toes. You hire a guy as an interim, it’s easy to dump him when he’s no longer useful or decides he can’t do the nefarious things you want him to do. In President Guaido’s case, it helps convince the average stupid American that the man has gravitas, while the previous president is shown online and on TV over and over and over and over again to be a loathsome violator of his people. It helps immensely to put severe economic sanctions on the shithole country so that soon enough its economy will tank and the previous president can be blamed for ruining his country’s economy. By this point it’s irrelevant that the interim president of Venezuela was once photographed at an anti-Maduro demonstration like an adolescent hooligan dropping his pants and shooting the authorities a moon.
There are, however, some problems when the government of the United States indicts a person who, despite being demoted by President Trump, insists he’s still the legitimate president of Venezuela. The big hurdle is that US agents can’t legally arrest Maduro unless they get him to actually stand on US soil. One may ask, why not just drone assassinate the man? That’s what President Trump did with Iranian General Qasem Soleimani as he left the Baghdad airport. Maduro is called a “terrorist” several times in the indictment. Trouble is, the northern coast of South America is not the Middle East, where Make-my-day! Dirty Harry rules apply.
So Maduro’s arrest is unlikely. They have to get Mr. Maduro onto US soil. All throughout the 28-page, many-count indictment of Maduro and five other Venezuelans, there’s a re-appearing sentence of pretzel prose that goes like this: These six (horrible) Venezuelans, “at least one of whom will be first brought to and arrested in the Southern District of New York”, all “intentionally and knowingly combined, conspired, confederated, and agreed together and with each other to violate Title 21, United States Code, Section 960A.”
Is that clear?
But there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Besides being dense, confusing and, of course, Kafkaesque, the Law can be very flexible and creative, especially when the niceties are overlooked and the United States Military joins the effort. At that point, “bringing a bad guy to justice” can mean pretty much anything. This was the case in 1989 when the US invaded Panama in Operation Just Cause (in case anyone had any questions) to snatch its president, Manuel Noriega. In that famous case, the government reverted to Title #69, Section 1201VD of the US Code, better known as the Invade the Shithole Country clause, in which case any recalcitrant little beaner president can be snatched and brought back to the US mainland to be legally arrested under Title 21, Section 960A. Venezuela is a lot bigger than Panama, which was gloriously stolen from Colombia by Teddy Roosevelt in 1903 in what the New York Times said was “an act of sordid conquest.” So Title #69, Section 1201VD has no precedent in Venezuela, though the sordid statute was cited in secret by President Obama when he and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton looked the other way and whistled Dixie as oligarchic thugs overthrew the duly-elected president of Honduras in 2009.
I’m obviously not a lawyer and my understanding of the US Criminal Code is limited to the practice and teaching of creative writing. Still, after a little study and research it becomes clear, when you get right down to it, much of the Law is about narrative, something that’s become a popular political term these days. Trials can be seen as verbal combat between two narratives, the verdict usually going to the wealthiest client who can afford the most talented storyteller. In this age of corruption, disinformation and widespread mistrust, the Law can also be used as a weapon in the arsenal of hybrid warfare.
Here’s how Andrew Korybko, the Russian author of Hybrid Wars: The Indirect Adaptive Approach to Regime Change, sees hybrid war:
“This type of conflict is waged indirectly and via proxy, and in some cases, many people don’t even realize they’re in the middle of a warzone until it’s too late. Taking advantage of new information platforms like social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), the organizers are capable of luring thousands of unaware civilians into their ‘protest marches’ for use as human shields against the authorities, all with the eventual intent of having professional provocateurs instigate violence so that as many casualities are caused as possible.
“The purpose behind this morbid manipulation of one’s countrymen is to engineer the conditions for a state crackdown against the ‘protest’ movement, which will then have the ‘justifiable grounds’ to call for regime change and escalate their demands against the government.”
This description could easily apply to the situation in Venezuela, where Interim President Juan Guaido has participated in and led many unruly street demonstrations that had to be put down violently by the Maduro government. (Of course, if such unruly protests were undertaken here in Washington DC, instead of the usual choreographed ones we have here, they would be put down violently, here.) Korybko notes that hybrid warfare utilizes all aspects of human life and culture and that it’s often morally unpleasant and distasteful.
“Never before in human civilization have traitors, backstabbers, and internal subversives that ‘open the gates’ for the enemy played such a prominent role in the warfighting strategy of an aggressive power, and the reason for this is because such behavior was universally reviled and looked down upon even by those that have historically engaged in it from time to time, to say nothing of the disgust that everyone (even the contracting power) personally feels towards the traitorous individuals that assisted the operation, whether or not it succeeded.”
One important feature of hybrid warfare is that the old rules don’t apply; it’s future oriented and exploits all developing technologies in a post cold war world dominated by tribalism and authoritarianism. The creative possibilities in hybrid warfare are amorally boundless.
The Prussian general and theorist Carl von Clausewitz famously nailed it when he said in Chapter One of On War that “War is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means. . . . for the political view is the object, War is the means, and the means must always include the object in our conception.”
One interesting feature of this is that the idea of an enemy is a rather fluid thing. For instance, in response to the COVID19 virus, Mr. Trump has self-designated himself a “wartime president,” a useful tool he may have picked up from George W. Bush, who used it masterfully to invade Iraq for no good reason and to create the worst foreign policy disaster since Vietnam. But being a war president arguably helped the sorry soul be re-elected. Using the wartime president designation in synch with Attorney General Barr and the principles of Hybid Warfare, President Trump can decide on his own that the president of Venezuela isn’t really the president of Venezuela. All he’s got to say is he thinks the man’s a rotten person and there were shady questions about his election; that is, that he’s not a good democratic leader. The Venezuelan president doesn’t have to murder and chop up a Washington Post columnist to get on the White House war president’s bad guy list. All a war president has got to do is get his chief legal storytellers to fashion an official narrative complete with fancy citations that criminalizes the man who has now been designated the “previous” president, a man the American people are told over and over is so yesterday that he’s living on borrowed time. The fact he’s a declared socialist and a friend of the unholy island of Cuba is all icing on the cake in the political gambit to get President Trump re-elected.
Thanks to the COVID19 virus, Mr. Trump has lost the two main pillars he was counting on for his re-election, the Wall Street boom and the ability to slander the Democratic opponent as a flaming socialist. As emergency socialized medicine takes over America with the speed of the virus, it has pulled the flaming socialist epithet out from under his campaign like an old rug. Which inevitably raises a dark question: If American socialists can take advantage of the virus, why can’t it be turned on its nose and, in the spirit of old Carl von Clausewitz, be used as a “real political instrument” of hybrid warfare in the 2020 political campaign? You know what they say: All’s fair in love and war. And politics in America sure ain’t a matter of love.
As a wartime president in the developing context of hybrid warfare, at least in his mind and among his team, Mr. Trump can declare Democrats as an enemy, which means this whole operation (let’s call it Operation War President) has tremendous creative potential, much of it yet to be explored. Consider Korybko’s remark about the “backstabbers” and those “universally reviled and looked down upon” in the past as frequently encountered in current hybrid warfare. The potential is great.
One, there’s all the strong-arm economic harassment and fomented protests directed at the current regime in Venezuela, which includes harsh sanctions that they hope squeeze Venzuelans like pigs until their economy squeals. Two, in places like Florida they love it when Donald Trump gets mean and nasty and kicks around despised shithole countries like Venezuela, and if Trump can get his huge gang of social media warriors to keep viciously hitting Maduro all over the internet, there’s the possibility of creating a critical popular mass that would permit the Trump Party to arrange a dramatic TV-enhanced Seal Team Six snatch of Maduro so he could be flown to US soil to be ceremoniously arrested for the TV cameras in handcuffs with a burlap bag shoved over his head. Floridians and the Trump base would go bananas with paroxysms of sadomasochistic joy.
Then there’s the number three hybrid war bullet point that is the one that’s really cool. Since a hybrid wartime president can declare anyone as the enemy — even Democrats — and while socialized medicine may be raging throughout America on the heels of a virus, the goal would be to get the Democrats to oppose the glorious attack on Maduro, an authentic, no-nonsense, real Venezuelan socialist. Then, the gig would be to paint the Democrats with that brush. Make them defend real dirtball socialists, not courageous, humanitarian, virus-killing socialists with gowns, masks and ventilators. Of course, Joe Biden, being one of the architects and a ferocious cheerleader for the Drug War in South America would probably flip-flop all over the place like a dying fish and not have the courage to call such a crass, cynical stunt out for what it is. But here’s the deal: Biden won’t have the balls to endorse Operation War President, either. The poor, doddering fellow won’t know what to do but squirm and trip on his own diction.
The first hybrid warfare president! It’s his big chance — maybe his only chance — and he’d be a fool not to take it; after all his mama did raise a genius. Thanks to the virus, no one is noticing that the war president is literally retreating from Afghanistan and handing the place back to the Taliban wrapped in a nice bow. It’s giving me flashbacks to the Vietnam endgame. India has always been the key to our Afghan war in West Asia, and now the war president is playing hardball aligning the US with India against CPEC, the China/Pakistan Economic Corridor coalition that could eventually include Russia and Iran. After 19 years of costly, cruel war against Afghanistan, including thousands of US dead, the place is now being left to spin in the wind, as a New Great Game gets under way.
With COVID19 spreading and scaring the living hell out of Americans, it’s virus news 24-7 and local news outlets are tripping over themselves trying to link humanitarian, feel-good family concerns with the flag and worship. It’s a brave new world out there, ripe for the picking. One would be a fool not to use the bully pulpit and other tools of a hybrid wartime commander-in-chief and direct them at political opponents. They won’t see it coming. Plus, the impeachment exoneration made it clear Mr. Trump is untouchable when it comes to mixing White House powers with personal politics.
So why not go balls-to-the-wall and put Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on the case teaching US kids how to salute the flag of a nation whose citizens are locked in their homes united in fear of a biological virus? While her brother, the dark Erik Prince of Blackwater notoriety, and their many plutocratic, fascist friends work to get aspects of a dirty hybrid war off the ground.
The scary thing about this dark comedy is it’s not that far-fetched.
CODA: If the above sordid tale of hybrid warfare has not been enough for you, as you shelter in place avoiding the COVID19 virus and as President Trump, surrounded by military officials, announced today at his press conference an enhanced counternarcotics operation of ships, planes and troops being sent into the Caribbean, here’s a link to an earlier sordid tale from January 30, 2019 — “Trump Venezuela Coup will End Badly for US” — about what could have been a classic US-spawned coup, had it not fallen flat on its gringo-inspired face, just like the 2002 attempt that, after two days, also failed to overthrow then Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a man who history will say may not have been the most pragmatic or circumspect statesman in the eyes of the capitalist world, but, hey, Venezuelans, certainly the poor ones, still love and revere him. That can’t be said for his US nemesis, President George W. Bush, who’s now a recluse painting his own toes in the bathtub. But, then, talk about sordid stories, Bush did come out of seclusion to receive something called The Liberty Medal from his pal-across-the-aisle Joe Biden in Philadelphia’s Constitution Center on Veterans Day 2018. Just think of all those wounded and dead US soldiers caught in the totally unnecessary, cruel meat grinder this previous war president led them into.