Last week provided further indication that Lee Zeldin is poorly equipped to represent New York’s First Congressional District.
Zeldin has long struggled on the domestic policy front, where his views and voting record too often fail to reflect the concerns of a majority of his constituents.
From the environment, healthcare, restoration of SALT deductions for New York, the government shutdown in January, to immigration reform and gun control, Zeldin has advanced and supported the positions of the GOP, the current administration and his big money donors to the detriment of the diverse district he represents.
Last week’s failure, however, is on the foreign policy front — a perceived strength of Zeldin’s tenure in office. Perceptions may indeed be misleading.
In a social media media blitz on May 1, Zeldin advanced his full-throated support for the removal of Nicolas Maduro from power in Venezuela. On Facebook he decreed:
“The people of Venezuela are fed up with living under the boot of the brutal, illegitimate, socialist Maduro regime. The United States stands unapologetically with the people of Venezuela and President Guaido, in order to have a peaceful transition of power and a healthy, vibrant Democracy.”
He followed up with a similar statement on his personal Twitter feed and, on his government Twitter feed, re-Tweets from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and challenges to those who were questioning the wisdom of seeking regime change in Venezuela.
It is becoming very clear now that those who were questioning the move were correct in their assessment.
By many accounts from across the world press, the attempted coup was poorly planned, rushed in execution, based upon wishful thinking and may yet prove to have been a plot by the regime to expose untrustworthy elements of the military and the government.
It’s no surprise that our current administration has fallen for a group of suave, self-dealing, poorly vetted members of an opposition group to a despised regime.
It’s happened before. The Bush administration, discounting voices of caution, complexity and nuance in shaping policy in Iraq, accepted as gospel the words and rosy forecasts of Ahmed Chalabi and Rafid Ahmed Alwan (known as “Curveball” to the CIA) because their views aligned with those in the administration.
The issue moving forward is not that this attempt has failed (and in the process demonstrated the weakness of Guaido’s opposition) but that Secretary Pompeo has already begun to ratchet up the rhetoric, indicating “Military action is possible.”
This is dangerous and the equivalent using a hammer as a tool for brain surgery.
Our long history of both military and soft power interdictions in Latin America, their unintended consequences, the damage that has been done to our reputation among our neighbors to the south and indeed the results in Iraq should prove cautionary tales to all Americans.
There is a path forward in Venezuela, but it is not by relying on whimsical, Keystone Cop worthy coup plots or the use of our military.
It is through negotiation, statecraft and diplomacy. The calling together of all involved parties for a meeting to begin this process would be a sound initial step.
Since the failure of the coup attempt, Lee Zeldin has been silent about Venezuela. Perhaps he is reconsidering his support of the effort. He should — or he risks exposing that his only perceived strength as our congressman is just another mirage.
Steven Kramer is a poet, writer and political activist. He lives in Riverhead.
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