Venezuela as we have known it is crumbling. Nicolás Maduro’s controversial new Constituent Assembly took over from its fragile Parliament on Tuesday, and in an address to the new government Maduro made an overture of friendship to the U.S. President saying, “Mr. Donald Trump, here is my hand.” It seems Donald Trump is keen to respond not with an open palm or even an arm-jerking handshake, but a fist.
“We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option, if necessary,” the President told reporters from his New Jersey golf vacation. As reporter Joyce Karam pointed out, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, looked intently worried during Trump’s declaration.
Pundits were quick to leap on Trump’s extreme suggestion of sending in U.S. forces when he’s already in a game of chicken with North Korea after threatening “fire and fury” and bragging about how U.S. missiles are ready to go at a moment’s notice. But the Pentagon is trying to reassure Americans that no military action has been officially ordered—yet.
Instead, the first response was a package of sanctions against the Maduro regime, which the Trump administration is treating as a dictatorship. But it doesn’t bode well that Trump has already leaped to violent rhetoric before the State Department has had a chance to do its job. In fact, State Department alum Eric Farnesworth, who is currently leads the Council of the Americas, tweeted that, in his experience, getting this aggressive so early on is “unwise even if true goal is serious econ sanctions as a sort of middle ground.”
Other experts weighed, in too. CNN’s Pentagon Correspondent and NPR’s Chief International Editor both thought that this actually gives Maduro the upper hand. The former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta wasn’t thrilled, either. After all, if Trump chooses to go into Venezuela, that wouldn’t exactly be the first time that the U.S. got involved in Venezuelan politics. The George W. Bush administration and the CIA were tied to a failed coup there in 2002. Not to mention all that business with the death squads in the 1980s.
As Maduro has consolidated power, the Bolívar currency has plummeted below the worth of World of War Craft gold and citizens have been scavenging for food— when they aren’t being disappeared. The United States isn’t the only one reacting, as Peru ordered the Venezuelan ambassador to get out by Wednesday. Now Trump wants to resolve all that instability a course of action that’s failed in the past when he’s on the brink of war in the Korean peninsula.