Trump Suggests ‘Military Option’ In Venezuela
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.