In addition to giving Maduro a gift, Trump’s statement that there could be a “military option” in Venezuela has provided the Venezuelan leader with a new pretext to persecute his opponents:

President Nicolas Maduro asked the pro-government constitutional assembly Monday to investigate the opposition for allegedly supporting Donald Trump’s remarks on using military action to resolve Venezuela’s political crisis.

Addressing a rally of government supporters, Maduro said Trump’s comments were prompted by the failure of the opposition’s campaign to oust him after months of destabilizing protests.

One could hardly ask for a clearer example of how taking sides in another country’s internal political upheaval can damage the cause it is supposed to help. The Venezuelan opposition doesn’t want Trump’s “help” when it comes in the form of threats of possible intervention in their country, and by making such a threat he has made their task harder and may have put them at greater risk than they already were. Trump’s threat made it a bit easier for the government to paint its opponents as agents of a foreign power and so makes it a little easier to discredit them in Venezuela.

It is hard not to compare this bungling with the way Trump’s predecessor handled post-election protests in Iran in 2009. The conventional wisdom in Washington at the time insisted that Obama needed to “speak out” forcefully in support of the Green movement protesters, and he was widely criticized here at home for “failing” to do so. Iran hawks faulted Obama for the rest of his presidency for “missing” the “opportunity” for regime change that they wrongly imagined was available at the time. These criticisms were weak eight years ago, and they still are, but it is notable that practically no one is making the same complaint today about Trump’s response to the crisis in Venezuela. Trump’s bluster has demonstrated how harmful and counterproductive U.S. meddling in another country’s political dispute can be, and that reminds us why the U.S. should refrain from taking sides.

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