US officials have conflicting opinions on how to handle the Venezuelan crisis, with at least one heated exchange taking place last week between members of National Security Advisor John Bolton's staff and the Pentagon on the supposed lack of military options.
Speaking to the Washington Post, unnamed officials recalled a clash between Bolton's staff and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Paul J. Selva, with members of the Bolton camp repeatedly interrupting Selva during a briefing in which the general, speaking for the military, advised against escalating the situation in the Latin American country.
Officials told the WP that Selva, ordinarily known for his soft-spoken manner, angrily slammed his hand down on the table in the briefing room amid constant interruptions, with Bolton deputy Charles Kupperman adjourning the briefing earlier than planned. Selva reportedly felt that the Bolton staff's confrontational style was 'out of line', with a senior administration official saying the Bolton staffers were dissatisfied over Selva's failure to present sufficient military options.
On Wednesday, Bolton told radio host Hugh Hewitt that there were "a lot of options underway" as far as Venezuela was concerned, and said that he had spoken with Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan, who recently cancelled a planned trip to Europe over the Venezuela crisis, and with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo regarding the Venezuela crisis.
Bolton also praised US Southern Command chief Navy Admiral Charles Faller, who said earlier this year that the military was "on the balls of [its] feet" and "ready to go" to support Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido. "That's the kind of attitude we need," Bolton said.
Two unnamed advisors told the newspaper that President Trump is not seriously interested in conducting a military operation in Venezuela, spending time meant to be devoted to the Latin American country talking about Florida politics or his Florida golf course, and giving his national security advisor John Bolton purview over Venezuela policy.
Earlier this week, Bolton denied that he thinks President Trump was intellectually challenged after Mark Groombridge, a former aide of Bolton's going back to the Bush administration, said that "deep in his heart, [Bolton] believes the president is a moron."
An unnamed Western diplomat commenting on the remarks said that "the trouble for Bolton" was that "Trump does not want war. He does not want to launch military operations." According to the diplomat, to get his current job as national security advisor to replace HR. McMaster in April 2018, the traditionally hawkish Bolton "had to cut his balls off and put them on Trump's desk."
The political turmoil in Venezuela escalated on Tuesday after opposition leader Juan Guaido announced the start of the "final phase" of the opposition campaign to oust the government of President Nicolas Maduro, calling on members of the Venezuelan military to switch sides. The call to action led to clashes in the capital between opposition and security forces, prompting Maduro to appear on TV to announce that he had appointed prosecutors to investigate an attempted coup d'état.
On Wednesday, President Trump told Fox Business that "a lot of things will be going on over the next week and sooner than that" in Venezuela amid the "incredible mess" in the country, and pledged to continue supporting Guaido, short of the military option. "We are doing everything we can do, short of, you know, the ultimate," Trump said. "There are people who would like to have us do the ultimate," he added.
The long-running political crisis in Venezuela took a turn for the worse in January, when Guaido, a member of Venezuela's semi-defunct national assembly, proclaimed himself interim president, and received the immediate backing of the US, its Latin American allies, Canada and Europe. Caracas accused the US of trying to orchestrate a coup, with Russia, China, Cuba, and dozens of other countries signalling their support for President Maduro, or urging non-interference in Venezuela's affairs.