President Donald Trump has recently turned his attention, and the focus of the U.S. foreign-policy debate, toward the economic and political crisis in Venezuela, where two men are pushing rival claims to be the head of state. The opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, has the support of the United States. But despite mass protests, the Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro refuses to step down.
The Trump administration’s efforts to force his ouster and bolster his opponent’s claims have included oil sanctions, the diplomatic maneuverings described by my colleague Uri Friedman, and harsh rhetoric. I want to focus on a subset of that rhetoric: threats of military force.
As a meeting last August to discuss sanctions on Venezuela was concluding, President Donald Trump turned to his top aides and asked an unsettling question: With a fast unraveling Venezuela threatening regional security, why can’t the U.S. just simply invade the troubled country? The suggestion stunned those present … including U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and national security adviser H.R. McMaster, both of whom have since left the administration.
This account of the previously undisclosed conversation comes from a senior administration official … McMaster and others took turns explaining to Trump how military action could backfire and risk losing hard-won support among Latin American governments to punish President Nicolas Maduro for taking Venezuela down the path of dictatorship, according to the official. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the discussions.
As recently as Monday, National-Security Adviser John Bolton told reporters, “The president has made it very clear on this matter that all options are on the table.” He appeared to signal that U.S. troops might be sent to the region. And Senator Lindsey Graham told an Axios reporter that Trump had recently mused to him about a military option.