Home/Daniel Larison/Venezuela and Trump’s Plunder Doctrine

Venezuela and Trump’s Plunder Doctrine

It seems that the idea of attacking Venezuela is never very far from Trump’s mind:

In a July 2017 private briefing with intelligence officials, President Donald Trump apparently asked why the US wasn’t at war with Venezuela, noting that “they have all that oil and they’re right on our back door.”

The latest claim is found in Andrew McCabe’s book, but it shouldn’t be dismissed. It is consistent with Trump’s many public and private statements floating the idea of invading Venezuela. Trump first publicly threatened military intervention as an option in August 2017. This latest report indicates that he was already thinking along these lines at least a month earlier. Trump returned to this idea again and again in private meetings with advisers and regional leaders, and it didn’t seem to matter that everyone he talked to about it told him why it would be a disaster. Just a few weeks ago, Trump was once again musing about an invasion to Lindsey Graham, who described the president as being “really hawkish” on Venezuela.

In the past, Trump’s advisers and U.S. regional partners have dissuaded the president from pressing ahead with his horrible idea, but it keeps coming up for two important reasons: Trump is absolutely not a non-interventionist, and he sees countries rich in natural resources as desirable targets for plunder. Trump’s initial support for intervening in Libya included the suggestion that the U.S. should get to take control of the country’s oil as a reward. His belated opposition to the Iraq war was founded on his dissatisfaction with the fact that the U.S. didn’t take Iraq’s oil. He has expressed the hope that “maybe we’ll get another chance” to do so. It is easy to believe that Trump entertained the idea of war with Venezuela for the express purpose of seizing their oil resources, because he has consistently and repeatedly expressed an interest in plundering the resources of other countries as spoils of war. This is what I call Trump’s “plunder doctrine,” and it is one of the few consistent features of his foreign policy worldview. That bodes ill for Trump’s present and future decisions on Venezuela policy, and it should be a warning to all of us that the president will have no problem with starting an unnecessary and illegal war if he thinks there is some advantage to be gained.

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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