President Donald Trump last August asked several top foreign policy advisers about the possibility of invading Venezuela during a meeting about diplomatic sanctions the U.S. was enacting on the autocratic government, a senior administration official familiar with the comments said, CNN reports.
Trump’s aides vigorously urged him against the notion of a military invasion of Venezuela, warning him it could backfire and explaining that U.S. allies in the region were firmly opposed to such drastic action. Taking military action against Venezuela would be a dramatic escalation of the U.S.’s so-far solely diplomatic and sanctions-focused response to the political and economic crisis roiling the South American country.
The suggestion stunned those present at the meeting, 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 familiar with what was said. In an exchange that lasted around five minutes, 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.
According to Vanity Fair, Trump was not sufficiently swayed. After the meeting, he informed reporters that he “wouldn’t rule out a military option” in Venezuela. Then, during a private dinner on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly with four Latin American leaders, one of whom was Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, the President reportedly brought up military intervention again.
“My staff told me not to say this,” he began, before circling the table to double check that each leader was sure they didn’t want the U.S. to oust Maduro. “Each leader,” the Associated Press reports, “told Trump in clear terms they were sure.”
Trump’s vision of toppling Maduro further muddles his already erratic foreign policy, which favors sweeping statements and skirts the consequences of unbalancing the global order. He has proposed withdrawing U.S. troops from Europe, Syria, and South Korea, for instance, but also suggested sending the military into Mexico to hunt down drug traffickers. He has said that America never should have gone into Iraq—but that while we were there, we should have “taken the oil.” He appears to favor allowing Bashar al-Assad to maintain his power, and has hinted that Russia should be forgiven for invading Ukraine, but has reportedly teamed up with Israel to help destabilize Iran with the goal of facilitating regime change in Tehran.
Still, the official with knowledge of Trump’s private comments noted there was “no imminent plan for a military strike” and chalked the comments up to Trump thinking “out loud.”
“The President says and thinks a lot of different things,” the official said. “He just thinks out loud.”
Yet, President Nicolas Maduro urged his armed forces Wednesday to be on guard following reports that nearly a year ago Donald Trump, the US president, raised the possibility of invading Venezuela, The Telegraph adds.
“You cannot lower your guard for even a second, because we will defend the greatest right our homeland has had in all of its history,” Maduro said at a military ceremony, “which is to live in peace.”
He alluded to reports in the press which said that, last August, Trump asked foreign policy advisers about the possibility of invading Venezuela, which the Trump administration has derided as a corrupt, Left-wing dictatorship.
Maduro said these reports back up his assertion that the United States is planning a military attack against Venezuela to seize its vast oil reserves. He said Trump’s question to his advisers came after Venezuelan opposition figures visited the White House.
“Is this a coincidence? No, it is not a coincidence,” Maduro said.
Bob Baer, a former CIA operative, said the idea of a coup in Venezuela had been “in the air for a couple of years” in intelligence circles, and he suspected the President had “got wind of it”. He said:
“I understand McMaster pushed back, said ‘stay out of it’. It’s very sensitive in South America – U.S. troops operating there, overthrowing governments, is beyond the pale. Then again, Venezuela is a mess, and countries around it are scared. The situation is ripe for a change so we’ll see where it goes.”
Baer said Venezuelan exiles had been trying to “transmit a message” to the President and “he’s listening, clearly.”
A military invasion of Venezuela could jeopardize the U.S. relations with Latin American governments involved in the ongoing effort to punish Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro for moving the country toward a dictatorship, the administration official told Goodman.