Politics, North America
The president reserved perhaps his strongest language in his UN address for Nicolas Maduro’s regime, but allies of the president and some in the Pentagon are urging caution.
When Donald Trump addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, he reserved some of his toughest language for Venezuela. His rhetoric prompted Bloomberg’s Eli Lake to conclude, “Trump went full neocon for Venezuela. Its leader, Nicolas Maduro, is a dictator ‘stealing power from his own people.’ Whereas Trump was vague about what his plan was for North Korea and Iran, for Venezuela he came very close to calling for regime change.”
But for others, including allies of the president, going full bore against Nicolas Maduro’s regime could be a distraction. They’re urging caution. Former White House official Sebastian Gorka, who helps run the new “MAGA [Make America Great Again] Coalition,” called Venezuela “not vital,” in comments to me. And Gorka, who has criticized neoconservatism, told Newsweek Thursday that former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon helped write the address, and that it was a “classic MAGA” speech (the White House denies this claim), not an announcement of conversion to Bush-era policies. On Venezuela, Gorka stopped well short of calling for regime change, but told me that the United States does still “have a role in calling out the regime and making their dictatorship struggle.”
Some in the Pentagon think the status quo will essentially continue. In the immediate future, outright intervention—explicitly arming the rebels, or sending in U.S. forces, etc—is “hilariously implausible,” an advisor to the U.S. Navy told me. “It’s not like Grenada in 1982 where Americans are directly threatened. Or Panama in ‘89. I think that the U.S will be content to wait it out.” However, the advisor conceded the president’s unpredictability: “But I’m not 100 percent sure.”
The night before his UN address, Trump dined in New York with Michel Temer, Juan Manuel Santos, Mauricio Macri and Juan Carlos Varela, the presidents of neighboring Brazil, Colombia, Argentina and Panama. The group is notably far more right-leaning than it would have been just a few years ago; Temer replaced Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, and Macri ousted the Kirchner dynasty in Argentina. And the group obviously has a keen interest in the stability of Venezuela, once Latin America’s richest country; its outright collapse would become their problem.