As an August meeting in the Oval Office to discuss sanctions on Venezuela was concluding, President Trump turned to his top aides and asked an unsettling question: With a fast unraveling Venezuela threatening regional security, why can't the US just invade? The suggestion stunned those at the meeting, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and national security adviser HR McMaster, reports the AP. According to a senior administration official familiar with what was said, 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. 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, like the invasions of Panama and Grenada.
The idea, despite his aides' best attempts to shoot it down, would persist in Trump'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 US policy circles as bluster, but shortly afterward, he raised the issue with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, per the US official. Two high-ranking Colombian officials confirmed the report. Then in September, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Trump discussed it again in a private dinner with leaders from four Latin American allies that included Santos, saying, "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, per the official, who added that each leader told Trump in clear terms they were sure. Eventually, McMaster pulled Trump aside and walked him through the dangers of an invasion.
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