In January, Donald Trump and officials in his administration spoke confidently about how their plan to topple Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro and install their puppet – so-called ‘interim president’ Juan Guaidó – would be a quick victory. But as the months went by, the coup attempt stalled and faltered. Maduro stayed firmly in power; and crucially, the military overwhelmingly stayed loyal to him. Now, six months after the launch of the coup attempt, a report suggests Trump is losing interest and pushing blame onto both Venezuelan opposition leaders and his own officials.
Trump “chewed out” his own staff for failing on “low-hanging fruit”
On 19 June, the Washington Post published an article quoting anonymous Trump administration officials on growing frustrations about the coup attempt in Venezuela. According to the report, Trump had initially considered ousting Maduro to be “low-hanging fruit”. He assumed it would be an easy foreign policy “win” that he could tout as “a major foreign policy victory.”
The article also reports that two anonymous administration officials said Trump feels his national security adviser John Bolton and his Latin America staff “got played” by both coup leaders and officials in the Maduro government. And Trump reportedly “chewed them out” at an angry meeting over the coup’s failure.
Growing disinterest from Trump
The United States never said that its effort in Venezuela would be limited to one round.
Trump’s own recent silence on the matter speaks volumes, though. Because he has hardly tweeted at all about Venezuela in recent months. One exception was his claim that Russia had withdrawn most of its personnel from the country, something which Moscow quickly denied.
Military intervention unlikely, but the US has caused immense damage in other ways
Meanwhile, the military option has officially remained on the table. But as Venezuela special envoy Elliot Abrams admitted to Russian pranksters in March, Washington is largely using the threat of military force to intimidate Maduro’s government. Even war hawk Mike Pence, who has always insisted that “all options are on the table,” now tends to deflect questions about direct military involvement.
Nonetheless, Washington’s actions have been severely damaging to the Venezuelan people. According to a one report, for example, around 40,000 people have died as a result of the Trump administration’s sanctions. As is usually the case, the sanctions have harmed the general population rather than the purported targets in the Maduro government.
A familiar tale
This combination of failure – even on its own terms – and devastating harm to civilians has become a recurring theme in US foreign policy escapades. The classic example is Cuba, which has suffered under a brutal economic blockade for decades, costing its economy over $100bn. This has caused huge suffering for the Cuban people, as acknowledged by mainstream human rights organizations and international institutions. Yet the policy has failed in spite of being in place for almost 60 years.
Military interventions, meanwhile, have been just as disastrous. The US was humiliatingly forced to withdraw from Vietnam, yet caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of Vietnamese people. In Iraq, the government was successfully toppled, yet the country was plunged into a basket case of sectarian strife and political and economic dysfunction.
In sum, Trump is the ultimate manifestation of this bungling incompetence combined with abject failure even in its own objectives. Washington’s behavior on the international stage increasingly resembles a child that has stumbled across a powerful and dangerous machine and decides to play with it by pushing all the buttons for fun. Venezuela’s Latin American neighbors (with a few notable exceptions) and US allies in Western Europe have shamefully gone along with Washington’s harebrained plan. It’s time that the rest of the world wakes up to the fact that, since World War II, the US has largely acted as a rogue state that flails across the globe leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.
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