Trump pressed aides on Venezuela invasion, US official says
By Joshua Goodman
Thursday, July 5
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — As a meeting last August in the Oval Office to discuss sanctions on Venezuela was concluding, President Donald Trump turned to his top aides and asked an unsettling question: With a fast unraveling Venezuela threatening regional security, why can’t the U.S. just simply invade the troubled country?
The suggestion stunned those present at the meeting, including U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and national security adviser H.R. McMaster, both of whom have since left the administration. This account of the previously undisclosed conversation comes from a senior administration official familiar with what was said.
In an exchange that lasted around five minutes, McMaster and others took turns explaining to Trump how military action could backfire and risk losing hard-won support among Latin American governments to punish President Nicolas Maduro for taking Venezuela down the path of dictatorship, according to the official. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the discussions.
But Trump pushed back. Although he gave no indication he was about to order up military plans, he pointed to what he considered past cases of successful gunboat diplomacy in the region, according to the official, like the invasions of Panama and Grenada in the 1980s.
The idea, despite his aides’ best attempts to shoot it down, would nonetheless persist in the president’s head.
The next day, Aug. 11, Trump alarmed friends and foes alike with talk of a “military option” to remove Maduro from power. The public remarks were initially dismissed in U.S. policy circles as the sort of martial bluster people have come to expect from the reality TV star turned commander in chief.
But shortly afterward, he raised the issue with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, according to the U.S. official. Two high-ranking Colombian officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid antagonizing Trump confirmed the report.
Then in September, on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, Trump discussed it again, this time at greater length, in a private dinner with leaders from four Latin American allies that included Santos, the same three people said and Politico reported in February.
The U.S. official said Trump was specifically briefed not to raise the issue and told it wouldn’t play well, but the first thing the president said at the dinner was, “My staff told me not to say this.” Trump then went around asking each leader if they were sure they didn’t want a military solution, according to the official, who added that each leader told Trump in clear terms they were sure.
Eventually, McMaster would pull aside the president and walk him through the dangers of an invasion, the official said.
Taken together, the behind-the-scenes talks, the extent and details of which have not been previously reported, highlight how Venezuela’s political and economic crisis has received top attention under Trump in a way that was unimaginable in the Obama administration. But critics say it also underscores how his “America First” foreign policy at times can seem outright reckless, providing ammunition to America’s adversaries.
The White House declined to comment on the private conversations. But a National Security Council spokesman reiterated that the U.S. will consider all options at its disposal to help restore Venezuela’s democracy and bring stability. Under Trump’s leadership, the U.S., Canada and European Union have levied sanctions on dozens of top Venezuelan officials, including Maduro himself, over allegations of corruption, drug trafficking and human rights abuses. The U.S. has also distributed more than $30 million to help Venezuela’s neighbors absorb an influx of more than 1 million migrants who have fled the country.
Trump’s bellicose talk provided the unpopular leader with an immediate if short-lived boost as he was trying to escape blame for widespread food shortages and hyperinflation. Within days of the president’s talk of a military option, Maduro filled the streets of Caracas with loyalists to condemn “Emperor” Trump’s belligerence, ordered up nationwide military exercises and threatened with arrest opponents he said were plotting his overthrow with the U.S.
On Wednesday, Maduro cited the AP’s article to reaffirm his long-standing claim that the U.S. has military designs on Venezuela and its vast oil reserves. At a military promotion ceremony in Caracas, he called on troops to remain vigilant, criticizing what he called the “supremacist and criminal vision of those who govern the U.S.”
“A military intervention on the part of the U.S. empire will never be a solution to Venezuela’s problems,” he said.
Even some of the staunchest U.S. allies were begrudgingly forced to side with Maduro in condemning Trump’s saber rattling. Santos, a big backer of U.S. attempts to isolate Maduro, said an invasion would have zero support in the region. The Mercosur trade bloc, which includes Brazil and Argentina, issued a statement saying “the only acceptable means of promoting democracy are dialogue and diplomacy” and repudiating “any option that implies the use of force.”
But among Venezuela’s beleaguered opposition movement, hostility to the idea of a military intervention has slowly eased.
A few weeks after Trump’s public comments, Harvard economics professor Ricardo Hausmann, a former Venezuelan planning minister, wrote a syndicated column titled “D Day Venezuela,” in which he called for a “coalition of the willing” made up of regional powers and the U.S. to step in and support militarily a government appointed by the opposition-led national assembly.
Mark Feierstein, who oversaw Latin America on the National Security Council during the Obama administration, said that strident U.S. action on Venezuela, however commendable, won’t loosen Maduro’s grip on power if it’s not accompanied by pressure from the streets. However, he thinks Venezuelans have largely been demoralized after a crackdown on protests last year triggered dozens of deaths, and the threat of more repression has forced dozens of opposition leaders into exile.
“People inside and outside the administration know they can ignore plenty of what Trump says,” Feierstein, who is now a senior adviser at the Albright Stonebridge Group, said of Trump’s talk of military invasion of Venezuela. “The concern is that it raised expectations among Venezuelans, many of whom are waiting for an external actor to save them.”
Associated Press writer Jill Colvin in Washington contributed to this report.
Follow Goodman on Twitter: https://twitter.com/APjoshgoodman
Opinion: A Cautionary Sex and Religion Decision in Canada
By Emilie Kao
Canada’s Supreme Court recently decided to deny accreditation to a top university’s proposed law school simply because its beliefs on sexuality and marriage were too conservative for Canadian culture. Trinity Western University’s “Community Covenant” holds all students to the standard of sex within marriage, which it defines as between one man and one woman.
Canada’s decision should serve as a cautionary tale to Americans. Fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 7-2 decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop reaffirmed what it had said in Obergefell v. Hodges, that belief in one-man, one-woman marriage is based upon “decent and honorable” premises, and clarified that it is a “protected view and in some instances (a) protected form of expression.”
Congress should now act to ensure that American schools will never face the kind of religious discrimination to which Canada has subjected Trinity Western.
To allow the government to punish a Christian university because its sexual ethics are too conservative would stifle both speech and debate. Under the Obama administration, this nearly happened to Gordon College, a Christian school in Massachusetts that had its accreditation challenged when it sought an exemption from an executive order on sexual orientation.
And in Masterpiece, some Supreme Court justices also came dangerously close to endorsing the kind of religious discrimination that Canada has allowed and that festers in so much of the world.
At last December’s oral arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, Justice Sonia Sotomayor told Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, who has spent 24 years of his life learning to create elaborate custom creations for nuptials, “Then don’t participate in weddings.”
Her belief that Phillips should have to choose between his line of work and religious beliefs is all too familiar to religious minorities around the world. And LGBT activists continue to use laws such as the one in Colorado to punish Americans who hold traditional views of marriage.
Ostensibly, these laws are intended to shield people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. But as LGBT mega-donor Tim Gill has candidly acknowledged, they have added sexual orientation and gender identity to discrimination laws in 21 states and Washington, D.C. to punish the “wicked” dissenters from the new sexual orthodoxy.
Economic discrimination is a cold reality for the more than 75 percent of people around the world who live in countries with high religious restrictions. The children of Dalit Christians and Muslims in India know their children’s horizons are different because of their caste and religion and that they may grow up to do the “dirty jobs” such as cleaning streets and sewers.
In Iran, the government prevents Baha’i members from going to a university and leaves them no path into the sciences, medicine, law and academia. And now in Canada, a Christian who wants to become a lawyer knows that he or she cannot be licensed to practice unless they choose a law school that conforms to Canada’s sexual orthodoxy.
Americans face similar threats in the form of ABA Model Rule 8.4g, which operates as a speech code for lawyers and could be used to discipline them for “misconduct” if they express traditional view on marriage and sexuality, even in social settings.
There is no violent persecution here, as one finds in too many parts of the world, but the prospect of educational and employment discrimination against those who hold minority viewpoints on sexuality is growing.
What began in the wedding industry with bakers, calligraphers, florists, photographers and videographers has now also cost firefighters, military pilots, farmers, TV personalities and tech CEOs their jobs, promotions and access to economic markets.
The Supreme Court decisions in Masterpiece Cakeshop and NIFLA v. Becerra signaled to those who want to drag America down the dangerous path of repressive societies around the world — where religious minorities’ gifts and talents alone cannot open doors to economic opportunities — that it won’t be easy.
As Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in Masterpiece, “It is in protecting unpopular religious beliefs that we prove this country’s commitment to serving as a refuge for religious freedom.”
The rest of the world, including Canada, gets it wrong when they exclude religious minorities from educational and employment opportunities because of what they believe. America has served as a beacon of hope to religious minorities in repressive societies around the world. The Supreme Court ensured that, at least for now, we will continue to do so.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Emilie Kao is the director of the Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Nonviolent American Revolution 2.0
By Tom H. Hastings
Now comes the 4thof July, when we celebrate how the American colonists used nonviolent tactics to win independence from Great Britain.
Wait—what? Where did your history lessons come from? you ask. What about the British War of Reclamation? The war of what?
As historians dig deeper into the particulars of American colonists’ campaigns against British exploitation, imperiousness, oppressive taxation and regulation of the 18thcentury in particular, they are finding that our vaunted American Revolution was not the 1775-1783 shooting war but that the decade of nonviolent resistance from 1765-1775 had already achieved revolutionary change and the British started the shooting war to attempt to regain control of the nine of 13 colonies that they had, for all practical purposes, already lost.
Author Rivera Sun, daughter of New England farmers, summed up much of this historical research in a widely circulated essay in 2017, and pointed to the significant civil society participation in some of the most impressive economic costs ever imposed using nonviolent resistance to imperial subjugation:
Some of the most powerful boycotts in nonviolent history occurred in the New England colonies against the British Crown. Though the term boycott would not emerge for another hundred years until the Irish coined it during tenant and land struggles, what the colonists called “non-importation programs” dropped British revenue in New England by 88 percent between 1774 and 1775. In the Carolinas, colonists deprived the Crown of 98.7 percent of import revenue. Moreover, in Virginia and Maryland, the rate reached an impressive 99.6 percent participation.
Historian Walter H. Conser points out that this is not revisionist history, rather, it is a return to accuracy and the wellsprings of actual American revolutionaries. He quotes a Founding Father:
“A history of military operations … is not a history of the American Revolution,” warned John Adams in 1815. “The revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people, and in the union of the colonies; both of which were substantially effected before hostilities commenced.”
Indeed, the Continental Association—a civil society cross-colony political and economic series of parallel institutions of self-governance—was so robust that Crown loyalists and especially British troops suffered social shunning and financial deprivation so widespread that most colonies were no longer profitable to the British empire, instead were costly and increasingly hostile.
Colonies were engaging in workarounds to avoid irritating bureaucratic imperial mandates such as the imposed requirements to use British forms for almost all legal transactions, forms that were printed in England and sold at high prices to colonial units of government. Colonial courts simply began accepting non-British forms as legal, in direct contravention of British order. This sort of growing official colonial government resistance would have been impossible to generalize without profound acceptance by a populace so tired of British rule that it simply broke away in all its conduct.
American colonial women began spinning their own cloth and making homespun clothing, one of many nonviolent aspects of withdrawing cooperation and support for British control. More than a century and a half later, Gandhi would emulate these American women in his virtually identical campaign of homespun in India. Let’s not forget that Gandhi named Thoreau and other American activists and authors as some of his influences and inspirations. His estimation of the importance of people ceasing to purchase foreign cloth and instead make their own clothing (khadiin Hindi) with their own spinning wheels (charka):
Charkha is the symbol of the nation’s prosperity and therefore freedom. It is a symbol not of commercial war but of commercial peace. It bears not a message of ill-will towards the nations of the earth but of goodwill and self-help. It will not need the protection of a navy threatening a world’s peace and exploiting its resources, but it needs the religious determination of millions to spin their yarn in their own homes as today they cook their food in their own homes. I may deserve the curse of posterity for many mistakes of omission and commission, but I am confident of earning its blessings for suggesting a revival of the Charkha. I stake my all on it. For every revolution of the wheel spins peace, goodwill and love. And with all that, inasmuch as the loss of it brought about India’s slavery, its voluntary revival with all its implications must mean India’s freedom.
For Gandhi in India, and for Americans in colonial times, the revolution of the spinning wheel was a part of the revolution seizing independence. May we credit nonviolent cooperation with each other and noncooperation with empire for our own freedom.
And now, in the time of Trump and the erosion of our freedoms, what measures will bring us the nonviolent American Revolution 2.0? We see stirrings from women resisting erosion of reproductive rights, schoolchildren who want better gun laws, and the majority of Americans who are sickened by mistreatment of refugees seeking safety in our borders, borders that used to welcome oppressed “huddled masses,” but are now headed toward Trump’s “great great wall” and are enforced pitilessly by his agents who shred American family values so blatantly.
Happy Interdependence Day. May we unite and find a new American freedom and justice for all with a peaceful revolution replacing violent values with those honoring and respecting all humankind.
Dr. Tom H. Hastings is PeaceVoice Director and on occasion an expert witness for the defense in court.
Cancel the 4th of July?
By Wim Laven
A year ago I asked, A Political or Apolitical 4thof July? This year is different.
A year ago I observed that the freedoms enumerated in the Declaration of Independence were under attack:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
This year is different because in the United States freedom is losing the battle.
President Trump managed to lie — 3,000 in 466 days — at a pace that makes the term “gas-lighting” fail, even Republicans are asking, “Why is my party gas-lighting America?” The policies churned out by this administration, with their gratuitous use of cruelty, are an affront on America’s core values day after day.
President Short-Attention-Span only made it through the first half of the Machiavelli quote: “it is better to be feared than to be loved …” he missed that it goes on, “if you cannot be both.” His cruelty and corruption sit in obstructed view for everyone to see. We quickly forget his statements, and his intentions—even the highest jurists of the country ignored Trump’s tweets and campaign promises for a “Muslim ban”when they decided to uphold his travel-ban-that-doesn’t-specifically-target-Muslims… Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote, the president’s statements do not endanger the travel ban. Even if Trump’s sentiments contradicted core American values, the White House was within its rights to issue the ban under the justification of national security.
So forgive the layperson for being overwhelmed, the abundance of unnecessary maleficence is more than anyone could take. Trump’s sentiments do contradict the values this country was founded upon, and the legislative and judicial branches have failed to protect those values, what should we do? Should we cancel the 4thof July?
My take this year is the same as it was last year, “The 4th of July is not a day for ignoring tyranny, and this 4th efforts are everywhere and they are undeniable. More fundamentally we have to be political because we need life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all Americans.”
Yes, it’s true, Trump’s dog-whistling to hate groups has worked, his tax-scam has passed, millions of Americans have lost health insurance or are threatened to lose the benefits they need to survive, and so on… “all men are created equal,” travel bans don’t reflect this; “certain unalienable Rights,” children stripped from their families while seeking asylum doesn’t reflect this; “Life” trying to survive on minimum wage in most U.S. cities is impossible; “Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” are threatened in more ways than can be counted.
The idea that people can do what makes them happy—to freely pursue joy—as long as you don’t do anything illegal or infringe on the rights of others isn’t uniquely American, but its elevation to a position of such distinction is. It is also the root—the foundation—of American hypocrisy.
“The right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” is a liberty guarded in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. Trump’s says football players must kneel for the National Anthem and makes calls for “civility.”It is the same claim that was made during protests for civil rights in the 60’s, or to resist Jim Crow, or to maintain the legal enterprise of slavery… Are we worse off today than when Frederick Douglass’ gave his 1852 speech “What to the Slave Is the 4th of July?” We might be, or we might not… The current forays into fascism may speak of true intentions, bumbling incompetence, or something in-between. My guess is that it is just the machinations of a Presidency in crisis and turmoil caused by the painful reality that you’re not above the law, but I may be too hopeful.
The truth is that the U.S. is no less hypocritical than it was when the Constitution was written guaranteeing slavery and including “negroes” as 3/5ths of a body for the purposes of an Electoral College they couldn’t influence. There really should be no surprise that the electoral college designed to keep slavery in place as long as possible is the reason that Trump won the office after losing the popular vote by 3 million votes. But let us be clear, the pain for most of us isn’t the dishonesty and hypocrisy of it all—it is the regression. It is the loss of the rights so many have sacrificed for, and the worry about what’s next. Current speculation includes a reversal of the most important features of the Roe vs. Wade decision, among others.
On the 4th of July, just like every other day, we need to make the personal political. To stay hopeful in the unrelenting ugliness of Trump’s lunacy. He wants to steal your voice, but this strategy isn’t new—rise above it. You see him wreaking havoc on good families and those who still believe in the American Dream—be a hero, be the person who stands up to ICE and says they don’t have the authority. Think about the sacrifices you’re willing to make. Harriet Tubman had escaped slavery but made 13 missions back to free other slaves. Wonder if we’d have helped with the Underground Railroad? What are you doing today?
The truth is that we can always stay hopeful, because there have always been helpers. We can remember the wisdom of those before us, Anne Frank was a captive teen but she still saw a world full of possibility: “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” because his vision of equality and justice was a spiritual one. These are the values blended into the moral fabric of America. No doubt the dream takes great patience and sacrifice, but all told Trump will barely make a stain upon these great values. His greed and selfishness providing the backdrop for selfless Samaritans to show that real value cannot be found in material things. On the 4th of July I won’t be celebrating a banner of self-serving-capitalism, I’ll look to a flag of stars and stripes and remember the democracy it represents and if we’re lucky we’ll find our moral compass before next year.
Wim Laven, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a doctoral candidate in International Conflict Management at Kennesaw State University, he teaches courses in political science and conflict resolution, and is on the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association.