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Trump Suddenly Discovers Regime Change Is Hard

Trump is grousing that regime change in Venezuela is harder than his ideological advisers promised him:

President Trump is questioning his administration’s aggressive strategy in Venezuela following the failure of a U.S.-backed effort to oust President Nicolás Maduro, complaining he was misled about how easy it would be to replace the socialist strongman with a young opposition figure, according to administration officials and White House advisers.

The president’s dissatisfaction has crystallized around national security adviser John Bolton and what Trump has groused is an interventionist stance at odds with his view that the United States should stay out of foreign quagmires.

The president’s frustration would be a lot easier to take seriously if he hadn’t essentially outsourced his Venezuela policy to a group of hard-liners from the very beginning. When you put Bolton, Pence, and Rubio in charge of something, you deserve the blame for trusting them. When you go along with everything they want, you don’t get to play the victim later. It is a measure of how gullible the president is that he could be so easily “misled” into thinking something as ambitious as ousting an entrenched regime would be easy. Of course the hawks told him it would be easy. They always claim that their cockamamie schemes will be easy! The problem here is that Trump keeps falling for their ridiculous sales pitches and endorsing the policies they want him to endorse.

It’s fine that he is getting dissatisfied with Bolton, but Trump has been the one talking about possible military intervention in Venezuela well before Bolton got there. Bolton didn’t make him do anything. He was already eager to meddle in Venezuela, and it didn’t take much to get him to do it. If Trump thinks “the United States should stay out of foreign quagmires,” he has a funny way of showing it by interfering in the internal affairs of a neighboring country. If he didn’t want to get pulled into a quagmire, he shouldn’t be playing at regime change by recognizing an alternative government. If he doesn’t like Bolton’s “interventionist stance,” he can fix that by getting rid of Bolton, but for some reason that never happens.

Trump’s grumbling continues:

Trump has said Maduro is a “tough cookie,” and that aides should not have led him to believe that the Venezuelan leader could be ousted last week, when Guaidó led mass street protests that turned deadly.

Did Trump not realize that Maduro was a “tough cookie” before last week? If he did, how were his aides able to convince him otherwise? If he didn’t, he is just trying to shift the blame for a stupid policy that he had no problems with until it very publicly blew up in his face. It’s all very well that Trump is now beginning to question the wisdom of his foolish Venezuela policy, but until this translates into something more than private muttering and complaints it doesn’t really matter. The report goes on to make clear that Trump will continue to let Bolton do whatever he wants:

Despite Trump’s grumbling that Bolton had gotten him out on a limb on Venezuela, Bolton’s job is safe, two senior administration officials said, and Trump has told his national security adviser to keep focusing on Venezuela.

It is not surprising that a president who fetishizes “strength” and looking “tough” is so remarkably weak when dealing with his own officials.

Trump should reverse course on his Venezuela policy, lift the sanctions that he imposed on their oil sector earlier this year, and back off from the aggressive policy that has proven to be such an embarrassing failure. I have no confidence that the president will do any of that, because that means admitting that the original decision to interfere was a mistake. It would also require him to remove the advisers that have given him such horrible advice on this and other issues, and it is already clear that he isn’t going to do that. That means that Bolton will get to run the administration’s foreign policy however he wants and all that Trump will do about it is have White House officials leak to the press that he is annoyed.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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