Only then did Trump tweet out the news, just as U.S. officials were briefing journalists and Canada and 10 Latin American countries were joining the United States in expressing support for Guaidó. (European officials acknowledged the National Assembly as the only legitimate democratic institution in Venezuela but stopped short of recognizing Guaidó as a transitional president.)
It was a well-oiled diplomatic campaign, closely coordinated with allies and rigorously on message. It was, in a word, un-Trumpian.
The dissonance didn’t end with the orderly process. Here was a president who preaches America First, who rarely invokes democracy and human rights in his unscripted remarks, who has voiced admiration for dictators such as Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un, sticking his neck out to restore democracy in a country that doesn’t usually figure among the top challenges to U.S. interests.
Asked to explain the president’s anomalous stance on Maduro during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, noted that both Venezuela and the United States are bound to a multinational charter they adopted in 2001 that enshrines representative democracy as the prevailing political system in the Western hemisphere. But the rationale rang hollow. If we’ve learned one thing from Trump’s presidency, it’s that he doesn’t feel the least bit tethered to international agreements when he believes they aren’t in the national interest.
In his first address to the United Nations, Trump attempted to square the circle of how he could both champion national sovereignty and involve the United States in the internal affairs of other countries. A nation’s “two core sovereign duties” are to “respect the interests of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation,” he stated, implying that shirking either of those duties could invite U.S. intervention.
Read: The president of the United States asks, ‘What’s an ally?’
Trump’s Venezuela policy has been carried out by a cadre of advisers who, unlike the president himself, either emphasize American values (Mike Pence) or advocate an interventionist approach to Washington’s enemies (John Bolton and, to a lesser extent, his predecessor H. R. McMaster). Bolton, in particular, has articulated a kind of neo–Monroe Doctrine in which Venezuela is of special significance because it falls within the United States’ regional sphere of influence. It’s “in our hemisphere,” he observed on Thursday, when asked why Trump has punished Maduro while praising other authoritarian leaders.
The Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who has called for the Venezuelan military to overthrow Maduro and who brokered a 2017 meeting between Trump and the Venezuelan human-rights activist Lilian Tintori that helped steer Trump in a more hard-line direction, has also played an influential role in crafting the administration’s aggressive posture. Rubio met with Trump on Tuesday and urged him to recognize Guaidó as the “rightful president” of Venezuela. The next day, Trump did exactly that.