After months of street unrest and growing international isolation, Maduro has found a new raison d’etre in President Trump’s threat last month to use military force in Venezuela. The exercises here were just one of a multitude of operations being orchestrated by the socialist government as it rallies a nation to arms.
The effort here underscores the power of Trump’s words, even off-the-cuff comments that may hint more at his mercurial nature than actual U.S. policy. International affairs experts do not take Trump’s threat of military force seriously. Yet Maduro loyalists are leveraging it to try to unite a divided country.
It was clear last month that Trump’s threat was what one observer dubbed  a “moment of monumental stupidity,” but his blunder is having much more enduring effects. It has put additional pressure and scrutiny on the opposition in Venezuela, and it has given Maduro’s supporters something new to rally against. Crucially, it has given Maduro an opening to rail against a foreign adversary in order to distract attention from his government’s own failings. As Moises Naim says later in the article, “Trump and Pence basically threw Maduro a lifeline,” and he has been making the most of that to the detriment of his opponents.
The lesson here isn’t just that presidents should avoid making careless threats about military action. It is an important reminder of how unwelcome U.S. interference in the affairs of other nations usually is, how easily local leaders can use that sentiment to their advantage, and how often Washington’s attempts to “help” tend to hurt the causes they are meant to bolster.