The lie of “promises made, promises kept,” a favorite phrase in President Trump’s stump speech for reelection, is perhaps most apparent in his foreign misadventures. The candidate who scorned “regime change,” and promised to end the policy of “intervention and chaos,” is sowing chaos and intervening from Yemen to Iran to Venezuela and beyond. Instead of wasting money on endless wars, Trump would rebuild America’s roads and bridges. The candidate who promised restraint has only delivered more calamitous intervention.
Last week, Trump vetoed the bipartisan joint resolution of Congress directing the president to withdraw U.S. support for the war in Yemen. This veto is a particularly execrable folly. The administration is continuing to support Saudi Arabia in its unconscionable savaging of that impoverished country, creating the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today. Fourteen million Yemenis are facing war-induced starvation. A cholera epidemic has broken out.
After the Saudi regime assassinated Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi inside their consulate in Istanbul, Congress — led by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) in the House, and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) in the Senate — backed a joint resolution, under the authority of the War Powers Resolution, directing the president to end our complicity in this horror. Bipartisan majorities in both houses voted to end this shameful policy started under Barack Obama. Instead, Trump reasserted the claim of untrammeled executive prerogative in matters of war and peace and vetoed the resolution. Sadly, Congress failed to overturn the veto.
Meanwhile, the latest U.S.-backed coup attempt in Venezuela has sputtered, tramples international law and gives lie to Trump’s promise that “we will stop racing to topple foreign regimes that we know nothing about, that we shouldn’t be involved with.” The administration decided that the misrule by authoritarian Nicolás Maduro, whose election as president was marred by voting irregularities, must end. It rushed to support the president of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, when the opposition leader announced that he was the legitimate leader of Venezuela. In an economy that has already shrunk by half over the past five years, sanctions have been tightened and tightened again, to the point that former U.N. special rapporteur Alfred de Zayas has called them “crimes against humanity.”
Trump announced that “all options were on the table.” His truculent trio of advisers — national security adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and viperous special envoy Elliott Abrams — openly threatened U.S. intervention. Frustrated by the public embarrassment of the failed coup, Pompeo warned that “military action is possible.” Bolton asserts that “the Monroe Doctrine is alive and well. It’s our hemisphere,” and invokes the Roosevelt Corollary, claiming the U.S. right of unilateral military intervention anywhere in the hemisphere.
In 2015, Trump argued that “We’re nation-building. We can’t do it. We have to build our own nation.” Now, his administration’s aides are boasting about plans to revive the economy once Maduro is ousted. Venezuela is a bitterly divided nation of nearly 32 million people. If the administration’s coup does succeed, horrific chaos is sure to follow.
And the “endless wars” that Trump promised to end continue — Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and so on. Libya is a failed state, mired in violence since our “humanitarian” intervention. Drone attacks have escalated in eight nations, almost certainly generating more terrorists than they kill. U.S. Special Operations forces were in 149 countries in Trump’s first year in office. The administration is ramping up economic sanctions against Iran, remaining bellicose with Russia and (especially) China, and going all in with Saudi Arabia and Israel, with Bolton and others pushing for military action. Bolton has designated Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua as the “triangle of terror,” expanding the list of targets.
Here, the so-called adults in the room, the keepers of the “guardrails” to protect an ignorant and impulsive president from himself, are part of the problem. When Trump called for removing troops from Afghanistan and Syria, his national security advisers got in the way. As Trump expresses caution about actual military action in Venezuela, the truculent trio barrels forward.
Trump has trampled his promise to war-weary Americans. Opposition to this endless folly is building, however. Progressives in the Congress — led by Khanna and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) in the House, and Sanders in the Senate — are intent on reasserting congressional power over war and peace. Republicans such as Lee and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) add bipartisan support.
Trump apparently believes that a bellicose position on Venezuela can help him win Florida in 2020. His broken promises about opposing regime change and ending our endless wars should cost him far more. Americans have voted for candidates who promised restraint again and again since 2000. They are likely to keep doing that until they elect someone who will actually live up to that pledge.