President Donald Trump ousted John Bolton in part due to frustration with his third national security adviser’s guidance to pair military power with economic pressure against Venezuela, according to current and former administration officials.
One senior administration official said that Trump had grown weary of repeated vows from Bolton that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro would be out of office in short order. A second official said that they had clashed over Bolton’s efforts to advance planning for military intervention.
That official pointed to the administration’s national security strategy, which predated Bolton’s tenure and called for “strong diplomatic engagement” to isolate rogue nations in the Western Hemisphere. “That has been and remains the policy,” the official told McClatchy, although officials across the administration insist that all options are on the table.
Bolton left the White House on Tuesday over several bitter disputes with the president and Cabinet members.
“I disagreed with John Bolton on his attitudes on Venezuela – I thought he was way out of line,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office.
Bolton raised the potential of military force on several occasions, including in January by walking into the White House press briefing room sporting a pad with a note reading, “5,000 troops to Colombia,” revealing private deliberations.
Before Bolton joined the administration, Trump had received guidance that portrayed military intervention in Venezuela as a massive undertaking. Hundreds of thousands of troops would be required for an invasion – more than were sent into Iraq in 2003 – and more modest military options, such as a blockade, would still amount to a sizeable war effort.
Trump eventually drew a line that Bolton would not readily accept.
“Every time [Bolton] brought up the potential of invasion, and potential use of the military, the president got frustrated and apparently grew tired of it,” one former Trump administration official said.
Some National Security Council aides and opposition figures loyal to Venezuelan National Assembly President Juan Guaidó are concerned that Trump could have an exchange with Maduro at the U.N. General Assembly in New York later this month that could confuse U.S. policy. The United States and over 50 other countries have recognized Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who remains in the president’s good graces, has also advocated a tough line on Venezuela and is pioneering a strategy endorsed by Trump to negotiate Maduro’s exit with top Venezuelan government aides.
Bolton’s departure comes amid U.S. concerns that the embattled Venezuelan leader might be preparing to use force against Colombia.
Maduro called the neighboring country a “warmongering threat” in a televised statement this week, huddled with defense officials and reportedly directed a military buildup at the border.
In a statement on Wednesday, Pompeo said the United States was invoking a decades-old treaty of reciprocal assistance with ten other countries in the Western Hemisphere that states an attack on one is an attack on all. He called Maduro’s reign “increasingly destabilizing” to the region.
And while the administration’s special representative on Venezuela policy, Elliott Abrams, said on Tuesday that the United States was “not closer” to a military confrontation with Caracas, he nevertheless is “worried” about the Venezuelan military maneuvers.
The U.S. decision to invoke the 1947 agreement, formally titled the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, suggests that military force might not be off the table.
“Recent bellicose moves by the Venezuelan military to deploy along the border with Colombia as well as the presence of illegal armed groups and terrorist organizations in Venezuelan territory demonstrate that Nicolas Maduro not only poses a threat to the Venezuelan people, his actions threaten the peace and security of Venezuela’s neighbors,” Pompeo said.
“Nicolás Maduro is not only the cause of the suffering of the Venezuelan people, he is threatening the peace and stability of the region,” he added.