Picking Up the Pieces from Trump’s Empty Threat

Original art by nuestro @raulstolk

With the transformation of Venezuela into a total Cuban-style dictatorship virtually complete, the international community had started to seriously ramp up the pressure on the regime. Talk of sanctions was on everyone’s lips, a rare international consensus had congealed on the illegitimacy of the constituent Assembly —52 countries and counting— Perú had kicked out Venezuela’s ambassador.

Somebody probably laboriously explained to him how counterproductive that would be.

Global institutions were starting to stake out a much harder position — the Organization of American States reactivated its Foreign Minister’s meetings, several of whom have completely disavowed the Constituyente, Mercosur activated its Democratic Clause, the U.N. was roused from its slumber, the European Parliament picked up the torch, some financial institutions have even refused to trade Venezuelan debt. Hell, even Switzerland, made a statement…Switzerland, coño!

And then Donald J. Trump had to go and fuck it all up:

They have many options for Venezuela — and, by the way, I’m not going to rule out a military option,…We’re all over the world, and we have troops all over the world in places that are very, very far away. 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.

When asked by a reporter whether this military option would be led by the United States, Trump responded: “We don’t talk about it, but a military operation, a military option is certainly something that we could pursue.”

The grown-ups in the administration were pushed back into a by-now familiar role: damage control.

The “we don’t talk about it” part is telling. Trump knows he’s not supposed to say this out loud. Somebody probably laboriously explained to him how counterproductive that would be. Guy can’t help himself. Sad.

It’s clear zero prep-work went into the president’s threat: no interagency process, no heads-ups to key players, no specific planning, nothing. So the grown-ups in the administration were pushed back into a by-now familiar role: damage control.

Soon, the Pentagon was subtly distancing itself from this shitshow.

Then Mike Pence, whose trip to the region was planned months in advance, found himself traipsing around Colombia trying to, erm, retroactively edit Trump’s Friday statement. Which is a shame because Pence actually knows a lot about Venezuela: ever since brokering the Lilian Tintori meeting back in February of this year, he had been one of the most proactive and yielded results.

The condemnation to Trump’s statements was pretty swift, and pretty universal. Without mentioning the US in particular, MUD said it rejected Cuban intervention as well as military threats from any foreign power, and blamed Maduro for turning the country into a regional threat (we’d link to the statement but MUD’s website has been hacked, again).

The Latin American continent, every country in Latin America, would not favor any form of military intervention.

The communiqués followed thick and fast — by 39 local Venezuelan NGOs, by Peru, by Colombia, by Gina — what you’d expect.

“Since friends have to tell them the truth, I’ve told Vice President Pence the possibility of military intervention shouldn’t even be considered,” Colombia’s J.M. Santos said at a press conference, with Pence standing inches from him.

“The Latin American continent, every country in Latin America, would not favor any form of military intervention and that is why we are saying we are intent on looking into other measures some of which are already underway and others to be implemented in the future,” Santos added.

The chances of a military intervention were remote before Trump’s off-the-cuff remarks, and became even remoter right after.

“But a transition in the Venezuelan regime toward democracy must be a peaceful transition. It must be hopefully a democratic transition. And it must be done quickly.”

Even a guy like the CIA’s hyper-hawkish director, Mike Pompeo, had to go to work jamming the presidential toothpaste back into the tube. “What I believe the president is trying to accomplish this week,” Pompeo said, “was to give the Venezuelan people hope and opportunity to create a situation where democracy can be restored.”

The deus ex machina fantasy where U.S. Marines fall from the sky and deliver us of this nightmare has a certain, undeniable appeal to people brutalized by this horrible regime. But to state the painfully evident, the chances that any such thing will ever happen were remote before Trump’s off-the-cuff remarks, and became even remoter right after.

The work of building political, military and diplomatic support for a policy as extreme as invading Venezuela would’ve taxed the skills of even the most gifted and experienced U.S. President. Lining up allies, talking down the Colombians, lining up the U.N. Security Council, figuring out where Russia stands in all of this, earning the support of a skeptical congress, rallying your own State Department, working public opinion… none of this was ever going to be easy. It would have taken skill and coordination, detailed understanding, a mastery of the bureaucracies involved, personal relationships with key stakeholders…and a light touch, as well.

A Lyndon B. Johnson might, just might have pulled it off, or a George H.W. Bush. But we don’t have an LBJ or a Bush père in the White House. We have a guy who freelances nuclear threats and plays footsie with neo-nazis.

So, y’know, good luck with that, Marinés.

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