On Friday afternoon, President Trump took a break from his working vacation to speak with the press on a variety of matters. Asked whether the United States would go to war with North Korea, Trump responded curtly, “I think you know the answer to that.” On Mike Pence running in 2020: “I don’t think so.” On North Korean state television ripping Trump: “Let me hear others say it, because when you say that, I don’t know what you’re referring to. … Let me hear Kim Jung Un say it, he hasn’t been saying much for the last three days.”
But the statement that got the most headlines was his take on Venezuela, where dictator Nicolas Maduro is strengthening his power. Trump said:
We have many options for Venezuela, and by the way, I’m not going to rule out a military option. We have many options for Venezuela. This is our neighbor, you know we’re all over the world, and we have troops all over the world in places that are very far away. Venezuela is not very far away. And the people are suffering and they’re dying. We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary.
Asked whether the U.S. would lead such an operation, Trump demurred.
According to Reuters, the Pentagon has already said the U.S. military “has not received any orders on Venezuela.”
It’s fine for Trump to say that all options are open with regard to Venezuela. But going out of his way to threaten military intervention isn’t particularly useful — Maduro has been utilizing the supposed prospect of American intervention in Venezuela as a bugaboo in order to rally support for his horrifying regime. Furthermore, there’s no evidence that the United States has considered seriously any military action in Venezuela to this point.
All of which is a problem for credibility. When President Obama drew a red line in Syria and then refused to enforce it, the rest of the world took notice; Russia and China quickly became aggressive. Trump making empty threats may sound good to him on the morning shows when played back, but if he doesn’t fulfill those threats, then he becomes another paper tiger. Trump can’t just say stuff. What he says matters, even if he doesn’t think it should. He can’t afford to blow his foreign policy credibility.