The Washington Post

Re­mem­ber Venezuela? Trump sure doesn’t.

- JACK­SON DIEHL Twit­ter: @jack­sondiehl Military · U.S. News · US Politics · Warfare and Conflicts · Politics · World Politics · Venezuela · Donald Trump · Caracas · White House · United States of America · Nicolás Maduro · Mexico · Iran · North Korea · South Korea · Congress of the United States · U.S. State Department · Afghanistan · Syria · Persian Gulf · Tehran · Russia · China · Kim Jong-il · Kim Jong-woon

Is there still a cri­sis in Venezuela? Judg­ing from Pres­i­dent Trump, you wouldn’t think so. Back in Jan­uary, the pres­i­dent and his top aides were seized with the cause of oust­ing the cor­rupt and au­to­cratic regime in Cara­cas. The White House de­liv­ered what it thought would be a de­ci­sive blow by block­ing U.S. purchases of Venezue­lan oil and hinted that a mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion was un­der con­sid­er­a­tion.

Five months later, Pres­i­dent Ni­colás Maduro is still in of­fice — and U.S. pol­icy is dor­mant. There has been no in­ter­ven­tion, and af­ter a cou­ple of failed at­tempts to force the regime’s col­lapse, the Venezue­lan op­po­si­tion has gone back to ne­go­ti­at­ing with Maduro, with the help of Latin Amer­i­can and Euro­pean gov­ern­ments.

The United States is not par­tic­i­pat­ing. In­stead, The Post re­ported last month that Trump had taken to “com­plain­ing he was mis­led about how easy it would be to re­place the so­cial­ist strongman.”

This month, the pres­i­dent picked a new tar­get, Mex­ico, which he show­ered with threats of tar­iffs and de­mands that it in­stantly shut down the flow of mi­grants and drugs across the bor­der, be­fore ac­cept­ing a cos­metic set­tle­ment. Be­fore Mex­ico was Iran, with which Trump ap­peared ready to go to war in early May if it did not com­pletely re­verse its for­eign pol­icy. And be­fore that was North Korea, which Trump first threat­ened with “fire and fury” and then heaped with “love” in a sim­i­larly in­ef­fec­tual at­tempt to dis­man­tle its nu­clear ar­se­nal.

There is a pat­tern here. Trump tar­gets a for­eign ad­ver­sary. He makes a max­i­mal­ist de­mand: change your regime; dis­arm com­pletely; “im­me­di­ately stop the flow of peo­ple and drugs.” Shun­ning co­or­di­na­tion with al­lies or Congress, he adopts dra­matic mea­sures that he sup­poses will quickly force a re­sult: oil em­bar­goes, tar­iffs, threats of mil­i­tary ac­tion. Then, when it turns out that it is, in the real world, not so easy to oust a Latin Amer­i­can dic­ta­tor, strip North Korea of its nu­clear weapons or force Iran to aban­don its re­gional am­bi­tions, he re­treats — or sim­ply moves on to the next tar­get.

What’s left be­hind is a string of for­eign pol­icy bank­rupt­cies, much like the se­rial real es­tate fail­ures that used to be Trump’s de­tri­tus. A small army of State Depart­ment spe­cial en­voys is strug­gling to clean up messes; in ad­di­tion to North Korea, Venezuela and Iran, they can be found in Afghanista­n and Syria.

Trump, mean­while, projects equa­nim­ity. North Korea is back to launch­ing mis­siles? The pres­i­dent is not “per­son­ally” both­ered. “My peo­ple think it could have been a vi­o­la­tion,” he said af­ter a launch last month. “I view it dif­fer­ently.”

Mil­i­tary ac­tion against Iran? “I’d rather not,” Trump now says, weeks af­ter mov­ing to block all Ira­nian oil sales, dis­patch­ing fresh forces to the Per­sian Gulf and warn­ing Tehran to “never threaten the United States again” be­cause “that will be the of­fi­cial end of Iran.”

As for Venezuela, crick­ets — ex­cept for a seem­ingly ran­dom Trump tweet last week say­ing that “Rus­sia has in­formed us that they have re­moved most of their peo­ple from Venezuela” — a claim that was quickly proved to be un­true.

Per­haps we should all be grate­ful for Trump’s in­con­stancy. Af­ter all, a U.S. in­va­sion of Venezuela or war with North Korea or Iran would be a catas­tro­phe. In­stead, we merely have a se­ries of em­bar­rass­ments that erodes U.S. cred­i­bil­ity and plays into the hands of more com­pe­tent ad­ver­saries such as Rus­sia and China.

The prob­lem is that sev­eral of the crises Trump has walked away from con­tain tick­ing bombs. North Korea is still suf­fer­ing from sanc­tions and run­ning short on food; the regime of Kim Jong Un is sug­gest­ing that if it does not get re­lief by the end of the year, it will cross U.S. red lines, such as by test­ing interconti­nental mis­siles. With its oil rev­enue plum­met­ing thanks to Trump, Iran is sim­i­larly mov­ing to­ward scrap­ping the re­straints on its nu­clear pro­gram. And Cen­tral Amer­i­can mi­grants will keep com­ing through Mex­ico.

Maduro can’t do much to threaten the United States. But he can con­tinue to op­press his own peo­ple, and he can stand by as the dras­tic oil sanc­tion Trump im­posed, which has caused Venezuela’s al­ready shrunken rev­enue to crater, com­pounds a dire hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­as­ter — and the United States in­creas­ingly takes the blame.

Maybe Trump will get lucky and th­ese bombs will defuse them­selves. Maduro may fi­nally be ousted by his gen­er­als or eased out by Latin Amer­i­can and Euro­pean diplo­mats. Rather than trig­ger a cri­sis, Iran and North Korea may de­cide to wait to see if Trump loses his re­elec­tion bid.

What surely won’t hap­pen is the re­al­iza­tion of Trump’s far-reach­ing aims through his for­mula of blus­ter, bully and for­get. Tack­ling prob­lems as tough as North Korea and Iran, or even Venezuela and the Mex­i­can bor­der, re­quires a com­plex strat­egy and a patient ap­proach. This pres­i­dent is ca­pa­ble of nei­ther.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA