Venezuela: Trump’s get out of jail free card?

  • President Donald Trump visits a new section of the border wall with Mexico in Calexico, Calif., Friday April 5, 2019. Gloria Chavez with the U.S. Border Patrol, center, and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen listen. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) Jacquelyn Martin

Published: 4/13/2019 1:22:47 AM

President Donald Trump recently tried to slide a “Get out of jail” free card up his sleeve, during the State of the Union address. Did you see it? It is this: a manufactured foreign crisis to deflect the Mueller investigation once that bombshell drops.

In late January, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered U.S. diplomats out of his country after the Trump administration recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as de facto “president” of that nation, following Maduro’s fraudulent reelection.

And Trump refused to do so.

Consider: About a year ago Trump expelled a number of Russian diplomats. What would we have done had Russian President Vladimir Putin refused to remove them? By refusing to bring U.S. diplomats home, Trump was attempting to set up an international crisis to take the pressure off his fraying rule.

But Maduro was smart enough not to take the bait, and Trump seems to have let a confrontation go — for the moment. But his future intentions were made clear when he appointed Elliot Abrams to oversee his administration’s efforts to move Venezuela “toward democracy.”

For you poor souls under 40: Abrams was the thug-in-chief on Central America during the Reagan presidency of the 80s. U.S. policy back then was to support whatever murderous, genocidal regime called itself anti-communist.

We are so drunk on what a terrible person Trump is as president, we are forgetting how terrifying American foreign policy was — and still is — in some parts of the world like Central America. The United States did not start the wars in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, but it backed the most murderous side — tens of thousands slaughtered, the near genocide of the Maya population in Guatemala, and the Contra War in Nicaragua in which the CIA invented an insurgency whose sole point was to further impoverish the second poorest country in the Americas in order to subvert its leftist government.

And now the diplomat who wielded the stake over the heart of Central America will oversee moving Venezuela “toward democracy”?

Should special counsel Robert Mueller drop a bombshell — one that might actually endanger Trump’s or the freedom of his children, say, Trump, like many American presidents, will seek a foreign “crisis” to take the heat off of him. (George W. Bush virtually invaded Iraq to keep himself from being blamed for 9/11, and Bill Clinton bombed Iraq just as his despicable dalliance with an intern was taken up in Congress.)

You might think Trump is stupid, but as Homer Simpson used to say, “Stupid like a fox!” How else to explain that the first weeks of the Democrat-controlled House were utterly devoured by Trump’s shutdown? Coincidence?

By refusing to obey a lawful order to remove diplomats form a host country, Trump can reanimate that crisis when he needs to. With someone like Abrams in the shadows, he can count on manufacturing the clandestine “facts on the ground” that would provoke it. (Abrams was convicted as one of the conspirators in the Iran-Contra scandal, which means he has proven he is willing to take extra-judicial steps to fulfill the commander-in-chief’s less-than-legal whims.)

And as I heartily believe that Donald Trump is a physical and moral coward, it would be the perfect crisis for him: an international incident without a land war. If Maduro can be foolish enough to be provoked by Trump — and he is almost as much a blowhard as Trump is — he feasibly might surround the American embassy with troops or police, allowing Trump to bang the drum about our embattled diplomats.

Think about it: embattled diplomats in a hostile country would invoke the Iran hostage crisis of 1979. It would rile folk up, liberals in the Democratic Party and the New York Times would find some reason to back Trump’s play to “protect our people.” Tomahawks would fly, but no boots on the ground.

Liberals of the Hillary Clinton school would be particularly vulnerable to such a scenario, as they would be tempted to break their spines again, as they did during Bush’s’ bloody Iraq fiasco. We must not allow this.

This does not mean that Maduro, or “President” Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, are good guys. Nothing is stupider than the saying “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Both Maduro (and Hugo Chavez before him,) and Ortega are “caudillos” — strongmen who replace the rule of law and institutions with strong personalities. (Sound familiar?) The Caudillo, left wing or right, is the bane of Latin America’s existence, not its salvation. Just ask Gabriel Garcia-Marquez.

The popular uprisings against both men are just that: popular uprisings by large segments of Venezuela’s and Nicaragua’s people demanding accountability and free and fair elections.

Latin America’s universal lament is: So far from God, so near to the United States. Meaning: you can choke us as easily in a hug, as a headlock.

Joe Gannon lives in Northampton. He can be reached at

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