I’ve always been skeptical that — despite his hard-line rhetoric — President Trump is a good ally of pro-democracy activists in Venezuela and Cuba. But an interview with Trump’s former National Security Adviser John Bolton has further convinced me that when it comes to helping oust Latin America’s dictators, Trump is pure blah, blah, blah.
In my interview earlier this week with Bolton, whose book “The Room Where it Happened” is making headlines around the world, I asked him whether Trump is really committed to restoring democratic freedoms in Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua.
Bolton, a conservative Republican who was the president’s top foreign-policy adviser until late last year, responded that Trump is pretty much only interested in winning Cuban-American and Venezuelan-American votes. If Trump is re-elected and no longer needs those votes, he might change course on Venezuela and Cuba altogether.
In the interview, which will air in full Sunday night on CNN en Español, Bolton said that one of the biggest problems with Trump’s Latin America policy is his failure to put pressure on Russia and China to stop supporting the Venezuelan and Cuban dictatorships.
“I don’t think he appreciates the threat to U.S. interests in Latin America from external actors like Russia and China,” Bolton told me. “It has been explained to him in the context of Venezuela in particular, and he has said we need to get the Russians and the Chinese out, for example. But then he doesn’t follow through on it.”
Asked why, Bolton said, “As in so many other areas, because he’s not guided by philosophy or strategy.” He added, “These are anecdotal, episodic comments that he makes that are not followed through in a persistent and consistent way. And what that does is leave us with weakened, inadequate policies.”
On why Trump hasn’t built a powerful coalition with traditional U.S. allies to bring about free elections in Venezuela, Bolton said, “He looks at life through a kind of transactional basis, like if it was real estate in Manhattan: Each transaction is considered in isolation. That’s not the way to do foreign policy and defense policy.”
He added, “A nation like the United States, with interests worldwide, has to have clear principles. It has to communicate that, and has to build up networks of friends and alliances around the world that protect all the interests we share in common. That is just foreign to Donald Trump’s nature.”
I don’t have high hopes that Trump’s Cuban-American and Venezuelan-American voters in Florida will change their minds after reading Bolton’s book, or this column.
They are rightly eager to see their countries liberated from their respective dictatorships, and don’t forgive Democrats for President Obama’s trip to Cuba.
(For the record, I cautiously supported Obama’s trip at the time, as long as he met his promise to link the restoration of full U.S-Cuban diplomatic ties to U.S. support for an international campaign for democratic changes in Cuba. Unfortunately, Obama didn’t deliver on the latter.)
Still, some moderate Republican or undecided voters may be asking whether it is a coincidence that so many former Trump aides are describing the president as an erratic, self-serving and ignorant figure? Is it a coincidence that Bolton is calling Trump “a danger to the republic,” and former Defense Secretary Gen. James Mattis has said that we’re seeing “the consequences of three years without mature leadership”?
These are not lefties saying these things about Trump. Could all of the president’s former top aides be wrong about him?
Furthermore, as long as Russia and, to a lesser extent, China, continue supporting the Venezuelan dictatorship, and as long as America doesn’t build a strong alliance with other world democracies to bring about free elections in Venezuela, it will be hard to restore democracy in that country.
But Trump, for some reason, is unwilling to put pressure on Russia. And he seems unable to build an international coalition to force free elections in Venezuela. Trump wants people to believe that he’s supporting Venezuela’s opposition, but it’s all political theater for domestic consumption. If he were really serious about it, he would be going after Russia.
Don’t miss the full interview with John Bolton in the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show at 8 p.m. E.T. Sunday on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera