Trump made some more reckless threats against the Venezuelan government in an irresponsible speech in Miami:
Trump cautioned that time is running out for Maduro and that those who have been slow to embrace the opposition leader, whom the U.S. recognized as that nation’s legitimate president last month, are confronted with a perilous choice as the world watches.
Trump specifically addressed the military, saying that backing Guaidó would lead to “a safe and prosperous future for all of the people of Venezuela.” But continuing to back Maduro, whom he called a “Cuban puppet,” would lead to a world of personal suffering.
“If you choose this path you will find no safe harbor, no easy exit and no way out. You will lose everything,” Trump said to cheers from the crowd. “They are risking their lives and risking their future for a man controlled by the Cuban military.”
There is almost no message less likely to spur defections from the Venezuelan military than this one, and there is no messenger less suited to delivering it than Trump. Many of Maduro’s supporters probably assume that they already have everything to lose and nothing to gain by yielding, so this speech will do nothing to convince them that they are wrong. This is the sort of confrontational rhetoric one would use if one wants to make Maduro’s supporters dig in and refuse to compromise. It isn’t immediately obvious that military defections to the opposition will lead to a “safe and prosperous future” for the country. If the military ends up being split between pro- and anti-Maduro camps, that sets the stage for civil war and a bitter struggle for control of the country. Being dictated to by an American president is one of the things that a majority of Venezuelan military officers cannot abide, and they are not likely to find his jabs about Cuba very persuasive if the alternative is siding with the U.S. government’s preferred candidate.
Trump has boxed himself in with his regime change rhetoric:
“There will be no going back,” Trump said at Florida International University in Miami, where a cheering crowd waved U.S. and Venezuelan flags and chanted “USA!”
Once an administration starts down the regime change path, it becomes increasingly difficult to avoid escalation. If another few weeks go by and Maduro is still in de facto control of the country, we will start hearing the inevitable demands that the U.S. needs to “do more” to force him out. In another few months, Trump will be facing more demands to back up his threatening rhetoric with much more aggressive action, and at that point he won’t have left himself any way out without climbing down from his ridiculous demands.
Trump is trying to pose as a benefactor of the Venezuelan people, but this is no more credible than when he says the same thing about the people of Iran:
Trump said of Maduro, “He would rather see his people starve than give them aid.”
As U.S. sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector take effect, Trump is prepared to help starve the people of Venezuela in order to achieve regime change. Once our government imposed those sanctions, it made clear that it was more concerned about achieving its goal of toppling Maduro than it was concerned about the welfare of the population. The losers in all this are the tens of millions of Venezuelans who will pay the price for this push to overthrow their government.