We’ve been watching the deteriorating situation in Venezuela quite closely here over the past couple of years, with one question always hanging over the discussion. What, if anything, should the United States be doing about the dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro aside from the sanctions we already have in place? While rumors have circulated in the past, some recent revelations appear to indicate that President Trump has never entirely taken the idea of either military intervention or at least logistical support of a Venezuelan military coup off the table. One of his former NSC members clarified that during a recent speech. (Business Insider)

The Trump administration had several clandestine meetings with rebellious Venezuelan military officers in 2018 but ultimately rebuffed their requests to support a coup.

At a Wilson Center event in Washington, DC, in September, [former Trump administration National Security Council staffer Fernando] Cutz said the White House “never debated supporting a coup” or providing support for a coup while he worked there but was always open to listening when a player in Venezuela wanted to talk.

Cutz also said at the event the administration had escalatory steps for developments in Venezuela, including a military response, for which he specifically mentioned the killing of US citizens or a massacre of Venezuelans as potential triggers.

The steps also included “a full-fledged oil embargo,” he said.

I will once again suggest that any consideration of a direct military intervention in Venezuela by the United States, particularly if we were going in alone, would be a terrible idea. Not only have such nation-building exercises been unmitigated disasters in the past (particularly when we’re talking about Central and South America), but we have far more to lose than to gain in that nation.

We already know that the Chinese are heavily invested in Maduro’s government and they would most certainly want to protect their economic interests. Even worse, the Russians not only own a large stake in Venezuela’s oil industry now, but they also have a military presence in the country, including both ships and air force units. If we started a shooting war down there we would very likely wind up taking on the Russians and that opens up an entirely unpleasant can of worms.

But supporting a coup might not be as dangerous if the attempt had any chance of succeeding. With that in mind, it’s worth looking at this headline that showed up in the past 24 hours. Is there a coup coming? (Reuters)

A man identifying himself as a Venezuelan National Guard sergeant at a Caracas outpost called for the removal of President Nicolas Maduro, in a social media video circulating on Monday.

The video did not show significant movement of troops or military vehicles. Social media photos showed the presence of security forces in the area of the National Guard outpost.

Reuters hasn’t been able to confirm the authenticity of the video and there’s no action in the streets at the moment. And even if it’s real, if this guy is speaking only for himself he’s likely to “disappear” in short order. But if there is indeed growing unrest in the military about the way Maduro has eviscerated the nation, they’re probably the only ones who could remove him from office.

That’s not any sort of guaranteed panacea. Even if the military were to remove Maduro and lock him up, what would we get as a replacement? The military might turn over control to the National Assembly and restore the old order, but they might just as easily decide to keep power and set up a junta. If that’s the case, it probably couldn’t be any worse than what they’ve got now, but it also might not be much better.