On Monday, as Donald Trump’s administration ratcheted up its pressure on the Venezuelan regime of Nicolás Maduro, the White House wanted Maduro to know that sanctions on the state-owned oil company, PDVSA, might not be the end of the road.
“Look, the president has made it very clear on this matter that all options are on the table,” National-Security Adviser John Bolton said during a White House briefing. He also said that violence against not only U.S. personnel in Venezuela but also the National Assembly and Juan Guaidó, whom the U.S. has recognized as the country’s legitimate leader, would be “met with a significant response.”
Bolton declined to say quite what that meant. “We’re not going to define it, because we want the Venezuelan security forces to know how strongly we think that President Guaidó, the National Assembly, the opposition, and most importantly American personnel [should not be] harmed.” (In either an elaborate mind game or a stunning display of absent-mindedness, Bolton also allowed photographers to see a legal pad on which was scrawled, “5,000 troops to Colombia.”)
This was, on the one hand, a remarkably blunt intimation of military action, especially coming from the administration of Donald Trump, who ran for president while criticizing foreign military adventurism. On the other hand, it was yet another threat from an administration that has often failed to follow through on them. The question is whether Venezuela will be different, and whether the presence of veteran regime-change advocates such as Bolton and Elliott Abrams will make the difference.