This is what happens when you hire your NSA because you like how he talks tough on Fox News, overlooking the fact that his foreign-policy instincts are almost diametrically opposed to yours.
Marco Rubio insists this new WaPo piece is — well, not incorrect, exactly. But “overstated.”
Your sources are overstating this
This is just payback against @AmbJohnBolton by small group of people who lost internal debates
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) May 9, 2019
It’s possible. Remember that Trump started talking tough on Venezuela long before Bolton joined the White House. In August 2017 he caught the planet off-guard when he said he wouldn’t rule out a military solution to Maduro’s regime, something that no one else was proposing. A few weeks later he hit Maduro with new sanctions. His antagonism towards some autocrats and his admiration for others is often hard to reconcile, as Bashar Assad might tell you. For whatever reason, he seemed to dislike the strongman in Caracas before Bolton was his right-hand man.
But it’s also true that Trump is far more skeptical of foreign intervention than most of his advisors. He wanted out of Afghanistan and Syria and has only grudgingly and partially relented under pressure from his team in both theaters. The “military option” talk about Venezuela two years ago was probably nothing more serious than Trump seizing an opportunity to talk tough himself, with no real interest in doing anything. He may have sized Bolton up the same way, as a guy who believes he can keep the peace abroad mainly by issuing alarming threats with no intention of following through on most of them. Imagine his surprise to discover that Bolton means it:
The president’s dissatisfaction has crystallized around national security adviser John Bolton and what Trump has groused is an interventionist stance at odds with his view that the United States should stay out of foreign quagmires.
Trump has said in recent days that Bolton wants to get him “into a war” — a comment that he has made in jest in the past but that now betrays his more serious concerns, one senior administration official said…
Trump has … complained over the past week that Bolton and others underestimated Maduro, according to three senior administration officials who like others interviewed for this story spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.
Trump has said that Maduro is a “tough cookie” and that aides should not have led him to believe that the Venezuelan leader could be ousted last week, when Guaidó led mass street protests that turned deadly.
There are more than two possibilities here between “totally accurate” and “fake news!” Trump being Trump, it may be that he did initially support a plot to pressure Maduro’s aides into defecting and then turned against it after it went bad. That would be right in line with his positions on the Iraq war and the intervention in Libya: He tends to put his dovish instincts aside somewhat when war is in the air, finding a show of military strength inherently appealing, but once things go bad he retcons his position to insist that he opposed it from the beginning. (Wars tend to be popular with the public at the beginning too and Trump likes being on the side of whatever’s popular.) Bolton might be getting scapegoated here for the failure of an operation which Trump himself was enthusiastic about at first.
But the idea of interventionist aides overpromising the president about how easy regime change will be rings all too true. And WaPo isn’t the only outlet to report recently that Trump is more cautious than his advisors about meddling in Venezuela. CNN had a scoop about that last Friday:
Trump has become frustrated this week as national security adviser John Bolton and others openly teased military options and has told friends that if Bolton had his way he’d already be at war in multiple places…
The President’s skepticism was sparked after the military uprising that Guaido and some US officials were counting on failed to gain steam — leading him to ask to questions about the reliability of US intelligence that suggested senior members of Maduro’s inner circle were preparing to defect.
Sounds like maybe Trump trusted Bolton to engineer a “soft” ouster of Maduro after being assured repeatedly that all the pieces were in place and now, upon discovering that they weren’t, trusts him much less to engineer a “hard” ouster. Who could blame him? As for Rubio’s tweet, that may be desperate PR from another ardent interventionist to keep the pressure on Maduro. After all, the more Maduro believes that Trump’s commitment to seeing him ousted is wavering, the more aggressive he’s apt to be towards Guaido and the opposition. Is it a coincidence that opposition leaders are now being snatched off the streets as news swirls that POTUS isn’t as keen on regime change as his most hawkish deputies? Guaido himself has been careful not to rule out the possibility of the opposition working with the U.S. military to bring down Maduro, even though that option appears to be unpopular with Venezuelans. It’s insurance for him, with Maduro reluctant to call his bluff and risk an American military reprisal. The more Trump’s commitment falters, though, the less risk there is.
Exit question: If POTUS wants maximum pressure on Maduro, why is he contradicting his own advisors by giving cover to Russia’s intervention on Maduro’s side?