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The U.S. Embassy in Caracas. Photo: Edilzon Gamez/Getty Images
The U.S. will begin evacuating non-essential diplomatic personnel from Venezuela, but will keep its embassy open, amid fears of a potential clash with Nicolás Maduro's regime.
Why it matters: Maduro's 72-hour deadline for the U.S. to evacuate all diplomats set the stage for a confrontation between an authoritarian leader desperate to hold power and a U.S. administration determined to see it taken from him. The risk of escalation in the coming days remains high.
Moisés Naím, a foreign policy heavyweight and former Venezuelan minister of trade and industry, told me, “Both sides are setting red lines that will be crossed.” He says an armed confrontation at the U.S. Embassy is possible, but not probable.
I caught up with Naím after a World Economic Forum panel that included a fascinating exchange with Ricardo Hausmann, a former Venezuelan minister of planning now at the Harvard Kennedy School, who said all the conditions for a democratic transition are in place, and "the only thing that remains is for the armed forces to ... tell Maduro to leave.”
Naím said we shouldn't expect Russian or Chinese troops in Caracas, “but we live in a world in which stealthy operations are very frequent. Will we see a presence, an influence, an attempt to shape things from these countries? Absolutely.”
The view from the region:
What to watch for: “The military, the military, the military,” Naím told me. They’re the protector of the regime, “but that is fraying. … We’ll know more in the coming hours, days and weeks.” In the absence of negotiation, he says, there will be confrontation.
Go deeper: Venezuela at a crossroads.
Maduro today in Caracas. Photo: Getty
Joel Rubin of the Washington Strategy Group writes for Axios Expert Voices that "because Maduro’s [anti-U.S.] card is his key to survival," the U.S. needs "to take actions that maintain the legitimacy of Guaidó’s position without adding risk by raising the American profile." His proposal:
Naím agrees. He told me: “There is a very, very strongly negative view among all the presidents here about military intervention, even among those who have been forceful in condemning Maduro.”
Axios' Jonathan Swan emails: "The big thing to watch is possible oil sanctions given Venezuela's dependence on U.S. purchases." The Trump administration has held off on such sanctions in the past out of a belief that they'd inflict more misery on the Venezuelan people.
Photo: Harold Cunningham/Getty Images
At this bastion of multilateralism, a procession of world leaders has acknowledged existential threats to the global order.
Between the lines: Adam Tooze, a professor of history at Columbia University, told Axios: "We may have to get used to a more modest definition of liberal world order." That likely means removing liberal politics from the equation and being less exclusive about who's invited to the club.
What's next: Tooze contends that a weakened, divided West is "not really in a position to go around postulating orders," and even if it were (perhaps with a defender of multilateralism in the White House), "China is simply not going to go along with it."
Watch out for our special report from Davos, coming this Saturday. Sign up for Axios AM to get it in your inbox.
The question of whether China is a partner or a predator hung over Davos this year.
With all that in mind, three fresh perspectives on what we should make of China's investments around the world, particularly in Africa:
1. Chin Okeke, a Nigerian-born, Mandarin-speaking entrepreneur, said at a panel on the Davos sidelines: "If China is a welcome alternative to what we've had before, and if what China is offering is more attractive, then other players have to step up."
2. Lina Benabdallah, a professor at Wake Forest University, writes in Foreign Policy that if President Trump really wants to counter China's influence in Africa, the U.S. "needs to recognize how China’s influence actually works."
3. Jonathan Hillman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, writes for Axios Expert Voices about a growing worry that "China is using Belt and Road for political gain."
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
This will be a perilous year for the Iran nuclear deal and for smoldering U.S.-Iran tensions, according to a report tied to the third anniversary of the deal's implementation.
The big picture: The authors of the International Crisis Group (ICG) report argue that Iran — which is still complying with the deal even though President Trump abandoned it — is unlikely to simply walk away from the pact. But it will seek to inflict pain on the U.S. as sanctions continue to bite, likely through military means. The potential sources of escalation are many, and the risks are far more acute this year than last.
Catch up quick:
What to watch: Iran’s strategy of waiting out Trump is both logical and short-sighted, Vaez says, given “they don’t seem to have a clear plan” should Trump be re-elected. They can live under sanctions for 2 more years, he says, but 6?
The bottom line: "It is easy to lose sight of the fact that the JCPOA, entering its fourth year of implementation, is serving its primary objective,” the authors write. It’s far from certain, though, that it will be in place a year from now.
Go deeper: Read the full Axios article.
Most of those calling for less overall immigration in 10 of 12 countries surveyed by Pew actually support high-skilled immigration, Axios' Stef Kight writes, a counterpoint to the immigration backlash that has upended politics in the U.S. and other countries.
Strangely shaped, snow-covered trees, nicknamed "snow monsters" cover the slopes of Mount Zao. Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images
"Today we feel there hasn’t been full accountability of that government. We don’t feel US government has put enough pressure on the Saudis.”— Washington Post editor Marty Baron at Davos, discussing Jamal Khashoggi’s murder
“We don’t have any problem."— Saudi Aramco CEO Amin Nasser, asked at Davos how the incident had affected business
Thanks for stopping by — see you Monday morning from Washington.