Jacob Heilbrunn comments on the Trump administration’s hawkishness on Venezuela:
But the real reason for the hugger-mugger over Venezuela may be that Trump, as is his wont, only pays attention episodically to foreign policy. He is so besotted with his new affair with Kim that he’s essentially outsourced Venezuela policy to Sen. Marco Rubio and national security adviser John Bolton, the latter of whom called Venezuela part of a ‘troika of tyranny’ in November. According to NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, Rubio has a free hand in part because ‘all this is happening with a State Department decimated by vacancies, demoralized by an unprecedented politicization of the nonpartisan foreign service, and for the last month, crippled by the government shutdown.’ Writing in the National Interest, Curt Mills, too, reports that Rubio is key: ‘Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon told me no one was more forceful in advocating for what would become the administration’s hard line.’
The administration’s hard line on Venezuela is a good example of what happens when you put an uninformed, disengaged president together with fanatical hawks with their own agendas. Much as he has done with Iran policy, Trump has allowed others with extreme ideological views to decide on the content of administration policy and he just signs off on whatever they give him. The same president who couldn’t care less about mass starvation in Yemen or extensive human rights abuses in Egypt is suddenly overcome with concern for the plight of Venezuela’s opposition and the demands of Iranian protesters. Some of this is the usual selective outrage and hypocrisy that we expect from our government, and some of it is simply that Trump has hard-liners whispering in his ear about Venezuela and Iran all the time. Especially on Cuba and Venezuela issues, the Trump administration has governed as if Rubio won the election, and that means that U.S. policy toward those countries is sure to be ideologically-driven, aggressive, and foolish.
His approach to Venezuela has been one of the clearest signs that Trump is an enemy of foreign policy restraint. In the last two years, he has repeatedly mentioned the possibility of attacking the country, his officials have been in contact with would-be coup plotters, and he has made a point of denouncing the Venezuelan government in major speeches. No one interested in foreign policy restraint agrees with any of this, and no restrainer sees Venezuela as a threat to the United States. Taking sides in an internal political dispute in Venezuela has nothing to do with putting American interests first, and a president so easily persuaded to take such an aggressive line towards a weak neighboring state doesn’t have the first clue what U.S. interests in this hemisphere are.