Last August, Trump was finishing off a meeting in the Oval Office to discuss new sanctions against Venezuela. At the end of the talks, Trump shocked aides and senior administration officials by bluntly asking why can’t the U.S. just invade the country.
In an exchange that lasted about five minutes, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — who were both stunned by the suggestion — pushed back against the idea, according to the Associated Press. They explained that military action would likely alienate Latin American governments who were working together to punish and ostracize Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro.
Trump nonetheless persisted. He pointed to the successful invasions of Panama and Grenada during the 1980s — countries which, together, have about 13 percent of Venezuela’s population — as examples of successful military interventions in the region. The next day, Trump announced that a “military option” was possible in Venezuela.
President Trump: “We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary” https://t.co/EIPUTM5T5D
— NBC News (@NBCNews) August 11, 2017
But Trump’s obsession with invading Venezuela didn’t end there. He also raised the issue with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, according to two high-ranking Colombian officials who spoke to the AP under the condition of anonymity.
Then, in September, he discussed the issue again with Mr. Santos and three other Latin American leaders at a private dinner after the U.N. General Assembly. “My staff told me not to say this,” Trump said, before going around the table asking Latin American leaders if they were all sure that the U.S. shouldn’t invade. All said they were.
Leaving aside the obvious logistical difficulties of invading a country with roughly the same population levels as, for example, Iraq, Trump’s rhetoric plays straight into Maduro’s hands: The Venezuelan leader has consistently claimed that the protests which Venezuela has seen in wake of his sham election victory in May are part of a U.S.-backed plot to oust him and seize Venezuela’s oil.
“They try to increase economic problems through an economic war to cut the supplies of basic goods and boost an artificial inflation”, Maduro told the Guardian in April. “To create social discontent and violence, to portray a country in flames, which could lead them to justify international isolation and even foreign intervention.”
Of course if Donald Trump did decide to invade Venezuela, he’d be taking part in a storied American tradition. From 1898 to 1994, the US intervened — often via direct military action — in Latin America 41 times, including direct interventions in Cuba, Guatemala and Panama, and indirect support for dictators in Chile and El Salvador.