Last week, when all eyes were riveted on the escalating threats between President Donald Trump and North Korean leadership, Trump raised more than a few eyebrows and caused deep concern when he told reporters on Friday that the U.S. would not rule out a “military option” in response to the increasingly critical situation in Venezuela.
“We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary,” Trump stated during a press conference at his New Jersey golf club.
“We are all over the world and we have troops all over the world in places that are very, very far away,” he added. “Venezuela is not very far away and people are suffering and dying.”
President Trump just said he wouldn’t rule out a “military option” in Venezuela. “A military..option is certainly something we could pursue” pic.twitter.com/bdfDg5oPZs
— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) August 11, 2017
With the media and political establishment working overtime to convince the public that North Korea was an imminent threat to U.S. national security, many were taken aback at the sudden suggestion of the use of military force targeted at the Venezuelan government. Indeed, Venezuela has never threatened the U.S., having asked only that the U.S. keep out of Venezuelan domestic affairs.
“A threat, a palpable threat”
Over the weekend, those in Washington desperate to see a regime change in Venezuela may have gotten just the justification needed for a “military option,” in the form of a claim made by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), one based entirely on unverified information.
According to the Miami Herald, the “sensitive” but unclassified DHS memo revealed that a well-known Venezuelan political figure, Diosdado Cabello, had issued an “order to have Senator [Marco] Rubio assassinated.” Yet, the memo, which was sent to several law enforcement agencies last month, went on to state that “no specific information regarding an assassination plot against Senator Rubio has been garnered thus far” and that the no one in the U.S. government had been able to verify the threat.
Given that the alleged assassination plot was based entirely on hearsay from an anonymous source, it is not surprising that DHS spokesman David Lapan stated that “it would be inappropriate for DHS to comment on the seriousness of the threat.” To all appearances, the very existence of the threat was never even confirmed.
Despite the dubious nature of the supposed assassination plot, the Herald sought to correlate an apparent increase in Marco Rubio’s security detail with the “threat,” creating the implication that it was real enough – despite being entirely uncorroborated – to be taken seriously by federal authorities. This is especially perplexing, given that Cabello currently holds no position in President Nicolás Maduro’s government and was only recently elected to the National Constituent Assembly in late July.
In other words, Cabello is arguably influential but holds no official position that would enable him to carry out such a feat. However, the Herald has claimed that, despite the lack of an official position in the current government beyond his role in the recently-elected assembly, Cabello “controls all of Venezuela’s security forces.”
If anything, the friction between Cabello and Rubio appears to be more a matter of personal animus than of matters of state. Prior to the Herald’s article on the “threat” to Rubio’s life, Rubio and Cabello had publicly feuded on social media, with each accusing the other of involvement in illicit drug trafficking.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) August 6, 2017
El primer personaje que sale a defender el ataque terrorista es @marcorubio, ya sabemos de dónde viene todo, serás derrotado una y mil veces
— Diosdado Cabello R (@dcabellor) August 6, 2017
Translation | The U.S. — might be behind the “terrorist attack,” given that Rubio was the first foreign official to comment on the short-lived insurrection.
Rising tensions between Rubio and Cabello came to light after the U.S. issued new sanctions against several Venezuelan officials — including President Maduro and Hugo Chávez’s brother, Adán Chávez, a career physicist — Cabello himself has yet to be included in U.S. sanctions. This would seem to indicate his lack of importance, from Washington’s perspective, as a Venezuelan policy-maker or representative of the Maduro government.
Unlike Cabello, Rubio has been a high-profile figure in the heightening tensions between the U.S. and Venezuela, making him made-to-order as the supposed target of a Venezuelan plot. He has been central in directing aggressive U.S. foreign policy decisions when it comes to Venezuela, particularly regime change. He has also pushed for harsher sanctions against Venezuela, including against its oil sector, and has authored legislation that, if passed, would give up to $20 million to the Venezuelan opposition, including its more extremist and violent elements.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 15, 2017
Rubio has also publicly supported Leopoldo López, an imprisoned opposition figure, and CIA asset, even accompanying López’s wife to Washington D.C. for a “surprise” visit with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
Rubio has echoed pro-opposition media outlets like the Herald, which has called López “one of Venezuela’s best-known and popular political leaders” (this despite the fact that U.S. diplomatic cables have stated:
For the opposition parties, Lopez draws ire second only to Chavez. The only difference between the two is that López is a lot better looking.”
Aggression justification: the pretext for pre-planned action
The timing of the report from the Herald — given that it came just days after Trump’s mention of the U.S.’ “military option” for carrying out regime change in Venezuela — is by no means random. Indeed, it is hardly the only report suggesting that Venezuela may pose a “threat” to the U.S.
CNN recently ran a story headlined “Maduro’s Son Threatens To Seize White House With Rifles.” The article omitted mention that Maduro’s 26-year-old son, who is currently coordinator of Venezuela’s National Film School, qualified this “threat” as one that would materialize only if Trump sent the U.S. military to Venezuela to depose its democratically-elected leadership.
It is ironic, to say the least, that the U.S. media would restrict its threat assessment focus to “incoming” threats, however implausible, while all but ignoring the U.S.’ repeated attempts to oust or even kill Venezuelan leadership ever since the election of Hugo Chávez, as well as U.S. assassination plots targeting numerous other Latin American leaders. Clearly, though the reality is precisely the opposite, a narrative is being created to suggest that Venezuela is a threat to U.S. national security.
The narrative is not being created just by the media. CIA Director Mike Pompeo, in a recent interview, stated that, “Venezuela could very much become a risk for the United States of America. The Cubans are there; the Russians are there, the Iranians, Hezbollah are there. This is something that has a risk of getting to a very very bad place, so America needs to take this very seriously.” Pompeo, of course, provided no evidence for these claims — including his bizarre mention of Hezbollah, a Lebanese political party, being somehow involved in Venezuela.
On Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence put his weight behind the narrative that Venezuela is a threat to U.S. national security. Speaking to reporters while visiting Colombia, Pence warned that the U.S. “will not stand by while Venezuela collapses into dictatorship,” and that the country risked becoming a “failed state” which would threaten “the security and prosperity of an entire hemisphere and the people of the United States of America.”
This flurry of narrative creation is apparently needed in light of the frosty initial reception Trump’s announcement of a potential “military option” received both domestically and abroad. In keeping with time-honored approaches to aggression justification, claims of influential Venezuelan figures linked to the Maduro government secretly plotting to kill a well-known U.S. Senator could easily become the pretext needed to justify such an intervention, even if no concrete evidence exists to support those claims. This flimsiness will, however, likely be of little concern to U.S. politicians, who have rarely been ones to require actual, verifiable evidence before launching an invasion.
Feature photo | Marco Rubio, R-Fla., walks from a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 18. Carolyn Kaster | AP