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Trump Suggests ‘Military Option’ In Venezuela

Trump-Speech-Congress

In addition to another day of combative rhetoric aimed at the Kim regime in North Korea, President Trump took time yesterday to suggest that the United States might take military action in Venezuela:

BEDMINSTER, N.J. — U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday threatened military intervention in Venezuela, a surprise escalation of Washington’s response to Venezuela’s political crisis that Caracas disparaged as “craziness.”

Venezuela has appeared to slide toward a more volatile stage of unrest in recent days, with anti-government forces looting weapons from a military base after a new legislative body usurped the authority of the opposition-controlled congress.

“The people are suffering and they are dying. We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary,” Trump told reporters in an impromptu question and answer session.

The comments appeared to shock Caracas, with Venezuela’s Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino calling the threat “an act of craziness.”

The White House said Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro requested a phone call with Trump on Friday, which the White House appeared to spurn, saying in a statement that Trump would gladly speak to Venezuela’s leader when democracy was restored in that country.

Venezuelan authorities have long said U.S. officials were planning an invasion. A former military general told Reuters earlier this year that some anti-aircraft missiles had been placed along the country’s coast for precisely that eventuality.

In Washington, the Pentagon said the U.S. military was ready to support efforts to protect U.S. citizens and America’s national interests, but that insinuations by Caracas of a planned U.S. invasion were “baseless.”

Trump’s suggestion of possible military action came in a week when he has repeatedly threatened a military response if North Korea threatens the United States or its allies.

Asked if U.S. forces would lead an operation in Venezuela, Trump declined to provide details. “We don’t talk about it but a military operation – a military option – is certainly something that we could pursue,” he said.

Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, criticized Trump’s new stance.

“Congress obviously isn’t authorizing war in Venezuela,” he said in a statement. “Nicolas Maduro is a horrible human being, but Congress doesn’t vote to spill Nebraskans’ blood based on who the Executive lashes out at today.”

The president’s comments conjured up memories of gunboat diplomacy in Latin America during the 20th century, when the United States regarded its “backyard” neighbors to the south as underlings who it could easily intimidate through conspicuous displays of military power.

The U.S. military has not directly intervened in the region since a 1994-1995 operation that aimed to remove from Haiti a military government installed after a 1991 coup.

Trump’s more aggressive discourse could be an asset to Maduro by boosting his credibility as a national defender.

“Maduro must be thrilled right now,” said Mark Feierstein, who was a senior aide on Venezuela matters to former U.S. president Barack Obama. “It’s hard to imagine a more damaging thing for Trump to say.”

The United States sanctioned Maduro and other Venezuelan officials in July after Maduro established a constituent assembly run by his Socialist Party loyalists and cracked down on opposition figures. The assembly’s election drew international condemnation and critics have said it removed any remaining checks on Maduro’s power.

Not surprisingly, this out of the blue announcement came as a surprise to Venezuela and prompted a predictable response:

President Trump’s remarks on Friday that he would not rule out a “military option” to quell the chaos in Venezuela set off a late-night diplomatic duel, with the defense minister accusing Mr. Trump of “an act of madness” and the White House saying it had turned away a call from Venezuela’s president.

“It is an act of supreme extremism,” Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López said late Friday in Caracas, the capital.

“As our minister of defense and a Venezuelan citizen,” he added, “I say it is an act of madness.”

About an hour later, the White House issued a statement saying that Mr. Trump had refused to take a phone call on Friday from Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro.

“Today, Nicolas Maduro requested a phone call with President Donald J. Trump,” the White House said. “President Trump will gladly speak with the leader of Venezuela as soon as democracy is restored in that country.”

Venezuelan officials did not confirm the White House’s account of the phone call. They seemed shocked that Mr. Trump had mentioned their country — troubled for weeks by protests and charges of election fraud — alongside a nuclear-armed North Korea.

The Venezuelan communications minister, Ernesto Villegas, in a television interview, called Mr. Trump’s remark “an unprecedented threat to national sovereignty.”

Mr. Padrino did not indicate how Venezuela would officially respond to the comments by Mr. Trump, who said, “Venezuela is not very far away, and the people are suffering, and they’re dying.”

“We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option, if necessary,” Mr. Trump said.

The defense minister said to expect a more detailed diplomatic response on Saturday.

The situation in Venezuela is one that has been getting seemingly worse as time has gone along. Thanks largely to the socialist policies put into effect by the late Hugo Chavez and continued by his successor, the country’s economy is an absolute mess notwithstanding the fact that it continues to be sustained by revenues from the sale of oil, although the revenue it garners from natural resources has plummeted in recent years thanks to the sustained decline in oil prices that seems irreversible at the moment. Food shortages have become commonplace, for example, as have shortages of everyday item such as toilet paper and other basic needs. Additionally, President Nicholas Maduro has proven to be every bit as repressive to opposition parties as his predecessor and role model was if not more so. In recent months, this has led to marches in the streets and an increasingly vocal civilian opposition that is being met with violent repression by Venezuelan authorities. Recently, there have been events that have suggested that the Venezuelan military may be prepared to take matters into its own hands and overthrow the Maduro regime. This has included an incident in June involving a stolen police helicopter that attacked several government buildings in Caracas and elsewhere in the country, and what was described as a “terrorist” attack on a Venezuelan military base last week. Additionally, the aforementioned opposition protests have become increasingly violent, with police and military forces not holding back against people who are clearly frustrated with the extent more than a decade of rule under the Chavez/Maduro regime. At some point, the country seems likely to either descend into further chaos or overthrow Maduro and begin the process of recovering what should be a nation flourishing thanks to more than ample energy reserves.

Given that this is Trump we’re talking about, it’s hard to tell if his talk of a ‘military option’ is serious or not. This is, after all, a man with a long history of making boastful claims and threats that never come to pass, whether we’re talking about his claims about the President’s birth certificate or his promise to a rather idiotic promise to build a border wall that Mexico will pay for. Trump isn’t making these statements as the D-List Celebrity he used to be, though, he’s making them as President of the United States. This means that we are required to take what he says seriously, and the fact that he’s saying something like this is rather alarming both because of the fact that he’s threatening to get the U.S. military involved in what seems to be a situation that is headed down the road to civil war and because it is utterly without merit and wholly irresponsible.

To put it bluntly, there is nothing going on in Venezuela that would justify the use of American military force to intervene in the country. Thanks to years of economic and diplomatic sanctions there are apparently very few Americans even left in the country and those who are there are connected to the country’s energy sector which, at least for now, has managed to escape any targeting by either the government or opposition forces. The Venezuelan military itself is far too small to pose a serious threat to the United States or any of its neighbors, and in any case is far too involved in trying to keep the increasingly discredited Maduro regime in power to be much of a problem for anyone else in the world. Trump’s rhetoric, therefore, is nothing but blustering nonsense from a man who probably couldn’t find Venezuela on a map if one of his advisers didn’t point it out to him.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. MarkedMan says:

    Leader of the Republican Party. Enough said.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  2. Slugger says:

    Hello, Señor Kim, could you use some petroleum? We are interested in trade for two, three missiles.
    The USA has used military means to achieve political goals on every continent except Antartica in the post WW II era. Any president, premier, or caudillo on earth will believe that attacks by the US are in the realm of realistic options. Some will look for ways to resist. Possession of nukes raises the stakes making an American attack less likely. If people miscalculate, some horrific event can result.
    Welcome to the New World Order.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  3. JKB says:

    Obama and Hillary set the precedent with their R2P justification for overthrowing Libya. Doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, but the precedent is set, and to do it without Congressional approval. The people of Libya had it rough, but they weren’t starving like the people of Venezuela.

    The Responsibility to Protect (R2P or RtoP) is a global political commitment which was endorsed by all member states of the United Nations at the 2005 World Summit to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 18

  4. wr says:

    @JKB: Shorter JKB: “No Republican is ever responsible for anything he says or does. It’s always the fault of the Ni**er or the Bitch.”

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 28 Thumb down 1

  5. @JKB:

    One of the many reasons I opposed intervention into Libya.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  6. michael reynolds says:

    @JKB:
    Shouldn’t you be in Charlottesville?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 0

  7. DrDaveT says:

    @JKB:

    Obama and Hillary set the precedent with their R2P justification for overthrowing Libya.

    Sure. W and Cheney set no precedents at all. Right. (rolls eyes)

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 20 Thumb down 0

  8. Mister Bluster says:

    Charlottesville…

    JKB’s hero, the pervert Republican President Pork Chop Pud, is all too eager to eager to bully Venezuela. A country that poses no threat to the United States.
    Do I think Pud will speak out against racist honkies?
    Not a chance.
    Trump is one of them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  9. teve tory says:

    @wr: The GOP is the party of Personal Responsibility: You’re responsible, and they take it personally.

    (stolen from someone, i can’t remember who)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  10. Mikey says:

    @JKB:

    The Responsibility to Protect (R2P or RtoP) is a global political commitment which was endorsed by all member states of the United Nations at the 2005 World Summit

    2005…who was President then? Apparently nobody.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 0

  11. teve tory says:

    @Mikey: Barack Clinton, IIRC.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  12. teve tory says:

    JKB is such a punching bag I almost wonder if he’s real.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  13. Franklin says:

    @JKB:

    Obama and Hillary set the precedent with their R2P justification for overthrowing Libya.

    Actually, I’m going to agree with JKB in some sense here. Those two actually gave arguable justifications for military action, compared to the Republican presidents who invaded only for oil or for no goddamm reason at all.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  14. gVOR08 says:

    Trump was flanked by Tillerson and Nikki Haley when he said this. Tillerson managed to maintain his “candidates wife” expression, Haley couldn’t suppress a double take. Looked to me like Trump got on a roll, lost his grip on facts, and threw out “military option” because he couldn’t remember any of the options they’d talked about and thought it sounded macho.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  15. JKB says:

    @DrDaveT:

    The adoption of R2P removed the “American Interest” inhibitor to foreign intervention.

    One hopes that this ignorant progressive idea died in the disaster that is Libya, but there is the precedent.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 12

  16. teve tory says:

    There are groups of white people in Charlottesville flying confederate flags, swastikas, doing the nazi salute, and chanting “FUCK YOU FAGGOTS.”

    I wonder how many of them are on record complaining about Colin Kaepernick.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  17. teve tory says:

    Tom Nichols‏Verified account

    @RadioFreeTom
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    For years, I said Obama foreign policy was like a bunch of IR grad students. This is now the opposite, and I would gladly take them back.

    12:22 PM – 10 Aug 2017

    Max Boot ‏Verified account

    @MaxBoot
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    Max Boot Retweeted Tom Nichols

    I was critical of Obama too but his presidency now seems like a lost golden age.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  18. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    …a surprise escalation of Washington’s response to Venezuela’s political crisis that Caracas disparaged as “craziness.”

    And therefore, not out of the realm of possibility, amirite?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  19. An Interested Party says:

    These statements are as ridiculous as those he made about Putin expelling American diplomats…should this be considered sarcasm too? Who could of guessed that Pepe the Frog is now president and nothing he says should be taken seriously…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  20. george says:

    Another day, another stupid comment by Trump.

    I wonder if he’s working on the theory that if he says enough stupid things people will stop paying attention to what he does.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. Slugger says:

    I glance at South American newspapers; I got interested in Spanish too late in life to be good at it. Mercosur, the regional economic bloc, has been very concerned about the situation in Venezuela and has taken several actions including suspending them, economic sanctions, and even at least discussion about the use of force. In the last few hours, they have come out in support of the Venezuelan regime. When Trump shoots his mouth off, it can hurt the effort. Some modest statement by him might have led Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, etc, to take care of the situation. Cartoon tough guy talk does not solve every problem.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  22. DrDaveT says:

    @JKB:

    The adoption of R2P removed the “American Interest” inhibitor to foreign intervention.

    You mean the inhibitor that prevented us from going into, say, Granada?

    (Setting aside the fact that, as others have noted, this was ratified by an overwhelming bipartisan vote during the Shrub administration…)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  23. al-Ameda says:

    Honest to God, someday there will be a Trump Presidential ‘Library,’ and I suggest it be located in the New Jersey Meadowlands next to the Jimmy Hoffa memorial.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0