Trump raised the idea in August 2017 during a meeting about sanctions the United States has imposed on oil rich Venezuela
President Nicolas Maduro urged his armed forces Wednesday to be on guard following news reports in the United States that a year ago President Donald Trump raised the possibility of invading Venezuela.
"You cannot lower you guard for even a second, because we will defend the greatest right our homeland has had in all of its history," Maduro said at a military ceremony, "which is to live in peace."
He alluded to reports in the US press which said that last August Trump asked foreign policy advisers about the possibility of invading Venezuela, which the Trump administration has derided as a corrupt, leftwing dictatorship.
In a meeting last August to discuss sanctions on Venezuela in the Oval Office, Trump asked why he could not just invade the country.
Months later, Trump was briefed not to mention the topic at a private dinner with leaders from four Latin American allies, but the first thing the president said was “my staff told me not to say this” – stunning his advisers at the time.
The initial discussion, which took place with the then US secretary of state Rex Tillerson and national security adviser Herbert McMaster among others, resulted in aides taking turns to explain why military action was not a good idea.
They argued that bringing up the topic could risk losing hard-won support among Latin American governments to punish President Nicolas Maduro for taking Venezuela down the path of dictatorship.
Trump apparently argued the case and 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, nonetheless persisted in the president’s head.
The day after the topic was first brought up at the private Oval Office meeting last August, he again spoke of a “military option” to remove Maduro from power. The public remarks were initially dismissed in US 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, two high-ranking Colombian officials and the US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Then in September, on the sidelines of the UN 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 and the same three officials, it was reported.
The US official said Trump was specifically briefed not to raise the issue and was 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 pulled aside the president and walked 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 the details underscore 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 US will consider all options at its disposal to help restore Venezuela’s democracy and bring stability.
Maduro said these reports back up his assertion that the United States is planning a military attack against Venezuela to seize its vast oil reserves.