Reconsidering Venezuelan Options: Focused US Efforts
The current situation in Venezuela is in flux.
How might we frame the challenge?
One way would be to examine three key elements affecting any outcome: geography, potential war fighting and political maneuvering.
The first element is understanding the geography, population distribution and oil regions of Venezuela and it must be seen on a map to be understood.
A key element of the population distribution is simply that Venezuela is among the most urbanized countries in Latin American with the the majority of the population living in the north of the country.
Caracas, the capital, is the largest city in terms of population.
A second key element with regard to geographical considerations is the location of the oil fields in Venzuela.
A key location of Venzuelian is offshore located at the Perla Field.
The Perla gas field is situated in the Cardon IV block in the Gulf of Venezuela. Covering approximately 33km², the field lies at water depths of 60m.
Repsol is the operator of the field and owns a 50% stake. The remainder is held by Eni. The Cardon IV block is licensed by Eni and Repsol. The block was awarded in 2005 and is part of the Rafael Urdaneta gas project, which covers a 924km² area, and is situated in shallower water.
Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) owns a 35% back-in right in the development phase. The right was exercised by PDVSA in 2014. Eni and Repsol each hold 32.5% of interest in the project.
Repsol’s reserves have been depleted over the past few years due to matured oil fields and production contracts in several South American countries. Therefore, the company plans to raise production through new discoveries offshore Brazil and Venezuela. Venezuela is focusing on expanding gas output and exporting LNG. Venezuela has a reported 179tcf of natural gas reserves. It held approximately 2.6% of total proven natural reserves in 2008.
A second key element is the potential use of military force by Maduro if the U.S. was to invade Venezuela.
There are critical lessons learned for US war planners in looking at our nation’s combat history that can shed light on the strengths and weakness when contemplating the use of force in a place like Venzuela.
Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro has said he wants a million more people to join his civilian militia by the end of the year.
Venezuela currently has a population of almost 33 Million citizens.
Maduro has used a Vietnam reference and our National Security war planners should most definitely pay attention to such an historical reminder.
In a video published in Spanish on his Facebook account, Maduro said if “the U.S. intends to invade us, they will have a Vietnam worse than they can imagine.”
Many American Vietnam POWs tell a real horror story that one of the most brutal interrogators in the Hanoi Hilton was a Cuban national.
So we should never underestimate that the enemies of America have studied how to fight us.
A first person combat lesson by the Vietnam leaders in the use of a trained militia was told directly to me during a visit to Hanoi in 1994 which underscores the importance of never underestimating the adversary and his will to fight.
This lesson came from the Vietnamese in defeating the PLA.
The Chinese Peoples Liberation Army learned a very painful and embarrassing lesson in invading Vietnam in 1979.
The Vietnamese military strategists fought back, against the PLA invasion essentially with their “B team”Army.
Vietnam’s best troops were busy crushing Cambodian Khmer Rouge forces.
Vietnam’s army successfully blunted a PLA invasion in the famous Hill Fights on their northern border in 1979.
There is a powerful lesson to be learned in understanding their way of war and that victory.
Vietnam has a highly trained and motivated standing Army of approximate 500,000 soldiers and a ready reserve force of 5 million.
The PLA learned a valuable lesson in going up against the Vietnamese because the Vietnamese reserves in that northern border combat zone rose up behind the invading force and threatened their lines of communication.
The Chinese quickly tried but failed to declare victory and rapidly withdrew defeated.
Now Maduro has made a call to arms to put additional military regulars and irregular forces on the field of battle.
The key question is how long will it take to make an additional million men combat ready?
Can he repeat what the Vietnamese did to the PLA?
The call to mobilization by Maduro can be analyzed as an echo from U.S. history in the mobilization of Union forces by President Lincoln.
At the beginning of the war the Northern states had a combined population of 22 million people. The Southern states had a combined population of about 9 million.
This disparity was reflected in the size of the armies in the field. The Union forces outnumbered the Confederates roughly two to one.
When the American Civil War began in April 1861, there were only 16,367 men in the U.S. Army, including 1,108 commissioned officers.
Approximately 20% of these officers, most of them Southerners, resigned
President Abraham Lincoln called on the states to raise a force of 75,000 men for three months to put down this subversive insurrection.
Nevertheless, between April 1861 and April 1865, at least 2,128,948 men served in the Union Army, of whom the majorities were volunteers.
Fast forward from U.S. mobilization capabilities in the US Civil War to our Pacific fight during WWII, there are two famous lessons from US Marine combat action in the Pacific that have relevance to today’s war planning.
First all American’s should be reminded of the prophetic words of wisdom from former Commandant of Marine Corps, the late General D Shoup recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor during the Tarawa Campaign:
“Gen. Shoup was outspoken on other issues as well.
“He told President Kennedy that he had had no advance knowledge of the ill-starred invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in 1961.
“If he had, he said, he would have wanted to know who was responsible for such poor ideas.
“Shortly before he was assassinated in November 1963, Kennedy advised Gen. Shoup that he wished to make him the head of the Central Intelligence Agency.”
Shoup advised against both the Bay of Pigs invasion and the commitment of U.S. ground forces in the Vietnam War.
When the invasion of Cuba was first discussed, Shoup did a demonstration with maps.
Placing a transparent map of Cuba over the United States, he surprised viewers that assumed it was a small island, not 800 mile long.
He then put another transparent map overlay over Cuba, with a small red dot Shoup explained that dot was the size of Tarawa, and “it took us three days and eighteen thousand Marines to take it.”
David Halberstam said Shoup became John F. Kennedy’s favorite general.
Go where the enemy isn’t is the second take away from our combat action in the Pacific and this is taken from a WW II study on understanding transformation by Lt Gen Philip D. Shutler USMC (Ret.);
In late 1942 at the end of the campaign to cross the Papuan Peninsula in Eastern New Guinea, General MacArthur’s leadership was characterized by one historian as “reminiscent of the worst generalship of the First World War.”
In September 1950, eight years later, General of the Army MacArthur visited Korea shortly after the Inchon landings to officiate as a triumphant pro-consul in the return of Korean President Syngman Rhee to the capital in Seoul.
MacArthur was honored at that time as a military genius and properly so, since he had insisted on the amphibious assault in the face of almost universal opposition and warnings of impending disaster.
The nation was on the threshold of a stunning and largely unexpected military victory.
This meant that General MacArthur actually was opened minded enough to learn from USMC amphibious success in World War II.
By the imaginative, coping actions of these officers (US Navy/Marine Commanders), the US Fleet, unique in all the Fleets of the world, was transformed from a Fleet of ships only to a FLEET WITH A TACTICAL FOOT ASHORE. A pattern for littoral warfare was thus established:
–The ships and aircraft would be employed to create sea control and air superiority.
–An amphibious assault would be executed to seize an expeditionary port and airfield. –
-Engineers and CBS would be put to work improving the airfield and port. –
-The aircraft base and port facilities would be moved forward. When the facility was ready, the aircraft and ships would be moved forward so that air superiority and sea control could be extended. –
The process would be repeated until our forces could be positioned close enough to enemy centers of political power to force a change.
Going where the enemy is not could well apply to today’s capabilities which the US could deploy against the current Venezuelan regime.
Now with 21stCentury con-ops scalable US Marine combat elements flying in from the sea an actual assault across a beach is not necessary.
Using MV-22s and heavy lift helos a USMC combat security force can be landed where opposing enemy forces are neither situated nor ready.
The element of surprise also favors the Marines.
Strategic Political Maneuvering
The third and most important point is the thoughtful execution of a political solution to remove Maduro by having Juan Guido recognized as the real operational President and it can begin with a simple step.
If Juan Guido wants to be recognized as a President then he should act like he is the President and begin a very visible public exercise over the next few weeks to engage in discussions of the various technologically and ground security requirements to fix and recover the Venezuelan’s citizens significant oil fields.
Bring together global Oil Company Executives in a White House meeting to study the issue and as appropriate ask for significant in-country security if they get an agreed upon financial go ahead to enter Venezuela.
As necessary, since President Guido citizens are unarmed, Marines can guarantee the mission’s initial success both designed to secure a very specific significant oil field along with a major focus on getting protected oil to a place where it can be brought to market.
Follow on security contractors can eventually provide appropriate security.
This is why the first two ppints are essential, understanding the geography, population density and location of oil is critical along with understanding the real combat reach of Maduro’s forces.
President Guideo and his Administration can take command in Venezuela by occupying a city other then Caracas and begin his broad based in-country governance from that location.
Taking a page from DeGaulle as leader of France during WWII while in England, he was the declared leader of France.
President Guido in a protected city becomes the new leader of Venezuela.
Having secured an interim seat of government, the Guido Administration can then began to launch ever expanding humanitarian relief efforts.
It is almost like looking at the problem as an armed humanitarian relief effort often required after a Hurricanes destruction.
A serviceable air base is absolutely necessary because the USAF certainly knows how to heavy lift in necessary humanitarian supplies.
Going in full frontal assault into Caracas might cause significant civilian casualties.
While successfully winning over the people in an expanding control of territory and concurrently making Maduro broke and alone.
At that point, his best way out would be simply ti leave and that is the desired goal.
Then and only then would the seat of government return to Caracas.
Engaging with major Oil Companies to study ways to bring back Venezuela’s huge Oil profits is but one step. But that very public step would begin to show the world and also all his citizens that financial wellbeing is on the way because he is simply acting Presidential.
Building on the profits of oil revenues while concurrently asking for the return of Venezuelan gold and any sequestered foreign reserves to be immediately turned over to President Guido’s Administration, Venzuela can pay off all legitimate debts while also beginning the process of relaunching the democratic nation.
President Guido in creating an interim governing city funded in part by the control of oil fields is a much safer way to secure an area with Marines than a full scale invasion.
It should also be noted a naval blockade, which is under consideration by the Trump Administration, is not a very good option.
A naval blockade is an act of war and it has to be enforced not just announced.
I hope the US Navy will not be called on to sink Russian, Chinese or other neutral country’s ships.
Rather going ashore from the sea to an easily defendable region to begin the new government is a lot less risky than a blockade or full scale invasion.
Right now beginning to operate as President, Juan Guido can legally take away all of Maduro and his thugs funding sources.
He will be seen as making Maduro and his Military team eventually financially broke.
In establishing a legitimate functioning government, which will not be easy and take time, he can still begin to immediately successfully execute the President of Venezuela’s constitutional mandate.
The late John “Jack” Wheeler, West Point ’66, Harvard MBA, Yale Law School, had a wonderful quote: “If you are on the team, play like you are on the team.”
Consequently, it is time for President Juan Guido to move beyond just calling for street demonstrations.
If he has the reins of power, then use it.
By such a demonstration of power, American’s can be reassured that they do not have to fight harder than those directly affected by a challenge are willing to fight for in their cause.
So far the Venezuelan people, mostly unarmed, have demonstrated raw courage in going up against a vicious failed brutal toleration regime.
President Trump has seen their courage and is now directly engaged.
It has been obvious over the last few days that events have not gone as well as expected for Venezuelan regime change.
Consequently, with strategic vision and bold action Venezuela can eventually be made free and prosperous again with a minimum loss of life.
As a self described republic with a presidential executive, Venezuela grants significant powers to the president. He or she effectively controls the executive branch, represents the country abroad, and appoints the cabinet and, with the approval of the National Assembly, the judges for the Supreme Tribunal of Justice. The president is also the commander-in-chief of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces (FANB).
The powers and obligations of the President of Venezuela are established, limited and numbered by articles 236 and 237 of the constitution:
- To comply with and enforce the Constitution and the law.
- To direct the activity of the Government.
- To appoint and remove the Executive Vice-Presidentand the Cabinet Ministers.
- To direct the international relations of the Republic and sign and ratify international treaties, agreements or conventions.
- To direct the National Armed Forces in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief, exercise supreme hierarchical Authority over the same and establish their contingent.
- To exercise supreme command over the National Armed Forces, promote their officers at the rank of colonel or naval captain and above, and appoint them to the positions exclusively reserved to them.
- To declare states of exception and order the restriction of guarantees in the cases provided for under the Constitution.
- To issue executive orders having the force of law, subject to authorization in advance by an enabling act.
- To call special sessions of the National Assembly.
- To issue regulations for the application of laws, in whole or in part, without altering the spirit, purpose and reason for being of the laws.
- To administer the National Public Treasury.
- To negotiate national loans.
- To order extraordinary budget item in addition to the budget, subject to authorization in advance from the National Assembly or the Delegated Committee.
- To enter into contracts in the national interest, subject to this Constitution and applicable laws.
- To designate, subject to prior authorization from the National Assembly or the Delegated Committee, the Attorney-General of the Republic and the heads of the permanent diplomatic missions.
- To designate and remove those officials whose appointment is made subject to his discretion by the Constitution or the applicable law.
- To address reports or special messages to the National Assembly, either in person or through the Executive Vice-President.
- To formulate the National Development Plan and, subject to approval in advance from the National Assembly, direct the implementation of the same.
- To grant pardons.
- To determine the number, organization and competence of the Ministries and other organs comprising the National Public Administrative Branch, as well as the organization and functions of the Cabinet Ministers, within the principles and guidelines set forth in the pertinent organic law.
- To dissolve the National Assembly in the case contemplated by the Constitution.
- To call reference in the cases provided for under the present Constitution.
- To call and preside over meetings of the National Defense Council.
- Any others vested in the President under the Constitution and law.
Editor’s Note: What Mr. Timperlake is suggesting is a use of a page from Mao or Fidel’s takeover of the state. Work from anywhere but the capital city, build out power and then seize the capital when it is teetering on political collapse.
This approach also has the advantage of allowing for allies like Columbia and Brazil to support the effort by proximity resupply rather than a direct military intervention, thereby building coalition support PRIOR to a direct confrontation in Northern Venezuela.