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

  • Supporters of President Nicolas Maduro wave Venezuelan national flags during a rally in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019. Maduro called the rally to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the late President Hugo Chavez's rise to power.  AP PHOTO/Ariana Cubillos

Published: 2/11/2019 8:19:38 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 was a manufactured foreign crisis to deflect the Mueller investigation once that bombshell drops. 

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

And Trump refused that direction.

Consider that, about a year ago, Trump expelled a number of Russian diplomats — what would we have done had 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 Elliott Abrams to oversee his administration’s efforts to “restore democracy” to Venezuela.

For you poor souls under 40: Abrams handled the dirty business in Central America during the Reagan presidency of the 1980s. 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 is, in some parts of the world like Central America in the 1980s. The United States did not start the wars in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, but it backed the most murderous sides: tens of thousands slaughtered, the near genocide of the Maya population in Guatemala, and of course, the Contra War in Nicaragua in which the CIA invented, almost out of thin air, 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 towards democracy?

Should special counsel Robert Mueller drop a bombshell — say, one that might actually endanger Trump’s freedom or the freedom of his children — 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 from 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 also 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, and those nasty brown socialists reaching up to tear the stars and stripes from its sacred perch.

Think about it: Embattled diplomats in a hostile country would invoke the Iran hostage crisis of 1979. It would rile folks up, liberals in the Democratic Party, and The New York Times would find some reason to back Trump’s play to “protect our people.” Tomahawk missiles would fly, but there would be 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 to happen. 

This, however, 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 Chávez 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-wing, is the bane of Latin America’s existence, not the root of its salvation. Just ask Gabriel García Márquez.

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 in a headlock!

Joe Gannon lives in Northampton. He can be reached at

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