Andres Oppenheimer reviews the damage done by Trump’s careless bluster about a “military option” in Venezuela:
If you talk with Latin American presidents and top diplomats — as I did in recent days — you will conclude that President Donald Trump’s recent remark that he may consider a U.S. military intervention in Venezuela was a moment of monumental stupidity that is already hurting the cause of freedom in that country [bold mine-DL].
Oppenheimer’s report backs up what I have been saying over the last week about the harm that Trump’s heedless meddling has already done. Trump’s rhetoric was undoubtedly a gift to Maduro and a blow to the opposition, but beyond that it has done a remarkable amount of damage to the regional response to the crisis. Instead of focusing on the abuses of Maduro and his allies, regional governments and media are worrying and talking about renewed U.S. interference in their affairs. Oppenheimer observes how Trump’s statement has affected media coverage in South America:
Watching television in Peru and Argentina, I was amazed to see how Trump’s Aug. 11 remark that “I’m not ruling out a military option” in Venezuela has changed the conversation about the Venezuelan crisis in the region. Latin America’s most influential media, which until recently were focusing on Maduro’s break with constitutional law, are now talking about the history of U.S. interventions in Latin America.
Before Trump was elected, one of the common complaints from the foreign policy establishment was that he would disengage from the rest of the world. That was a faulty prediction. We can see plainly that the danger of the Trump administration is not disengagement, but rather ham-fisted meddling. Trump does not renounce U.S. “leadership,” but he doesn’t know the first thing about smart or effective diplomacy, and so we get a series of unplanned, ill-advised threats of military action that simultaneously alarm allies and benefit adversaries.
Besides handing Maduro an easy propaganda win, there are more practical and meaningful consequences to Trump’s outburst:
In fact, Trump’s remarks have already done more harm than allowing Maduro to shift the conversation away from his power grab. They have also fractured Latin America’s diplomatic front that was putting growing pressure on the Maduro regime to restore democratic rule.
Top Peruvian diplomats told me that the group of more than a dozen Latin American countries that met in Peru earlier this month to discuss the Venezuelan crisis is now divided over whether to adopt stronger diplomatic sanctions against Maduro, because several countries are reluctant to go forward amid the threat of a U.S. military intervention [bold mine-DL].
It is possible that some regional governments are looking for excuses not to put additional pressure on Venezuela and are now seizing the opportunity provided by Trump’s remarks, but the point is that Trump provided that excuse with his mindless threat. Trump has strengthened Maduro’s position domestically and internationally, and he did so because he thinks showing “strength” is all that matters and because he confuses making threats with being strong. This is one of the more egregious blunders of Trump’s first year in office, but I suspect it won’t be the last or the biggest.