For much of the past weekend, the Twitter account of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was filled with updates on the violence in Venezuela, where military forces loyal to President Nicolás Maduro attempted to stop humanitarian aid from entering the country.
Then, on Sunday, the account took a bellicose turn.
The tweets showed Manuel Antonio Noriega, Moammar Gaddafi and Nicolae Ceausescu — the former dictators of Panama, Libya and Romania, respectively — first in power and then after being deposed. In Gaddafi’s case, the photo that Rubio tweeted showed the strongman shortly before he was summarily executed by Libyan rebels.
Rubio, who has been perhaps the most vocal U.S. lawmaker on the situation in Venezuela, did not specify what he meant by tweeting out the photos, and his office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But to many onlookers, the images sent a clear message to Maduro: Your days also are numbered, and the United States will ensure that.
Critics were quick to point out that Rubio’s tweets, especially the one about Gaddafi, highlighted why the United States should refuse to consider military intervention. Libya has been racked by violence and political turmoil since Gaddafi’s fall in 2011, which was aided by a NATO-led bombing campaign.
“While tweeting this is deeply sick, it does work as an outstanding argument against US-backed regime change,” tweeted Matt Duss, a foreign policy adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Sanders, who is running for president in the Democratic primary, has been criticized for stopping short of calling Maduro a dictator.
“Even if US-backed regime change succeeds (a big if), the challenges only begin there. That should be the lesson from Libya, not this brand of juvenile chest thumping at Maduro,” wrote Ben Rhodes, a foreign policy adviser in the Obama White House.
Brett Bruen, who was White House director of global engagement during the Obama administration, said Rubio’s rhetoric may also make it harder for other left-wing Latin American leaders to abandon Maduro.
“We need to make this about right and wrong, not about left and right ideologies,” said Bruen, who is director of the consulting firm Global Situation Room. “We’re making it more difficult for them to cross over.”