In the wake of the failure of a coup attempt in Venezuela, US National Security Adviser John Bolton has met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan to discuss a military action among other available choices,
The meeting at the Pentagon on Friday saw the three officials explore a range of discrete options for the US military, officials said.
“This was really a true review and then making sure that we’re all in alignment,” Shanahan said after the meeting.
The meeting came amid reports that President Donald Trump had expressed frustration at Washington’s inability to oust Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
Asked whether the options that were discussed included military action in the oil-rich South American country, Shanahan said, “I’ll leave that to your imagination. We have all options … on the table.”
Shanahan cancelled a trip to Europe this week to follow the developments in Venezuela, after opposition leader and self-proclaimed “interim president” Juan Guaido failed to gain support from senior leaders of the Venezuelan military during a coup attempt.
During the attempt, a group of Venezuela army defectors clashed with soldiers at an anti-government rally in the capital Caracas. Gunfire ensued and more than 100 people were wounded.
The Trump administration, which has recognized Guaido as the “president” of Venezuela, quickly backed the attempted putsch.
Later in the day, Maduro declared that the coup attempt by a small group of the military had been defeated.
This reportedly prompted skepticism by Trump, who questioned the reliability of US intelligence estimations that senior members of Maduro’s inner circle were preparing to defect.
The Friday meeting also included a briefing by head of US Southern Command Craig Faller, who has in the past day sent mixed messages on a possible military intervention.
Faller, who oversees US operations south of Mexico’s southern border, had over the past weeks claimed that his forces were on “the balls of their feet” for action against Maduro.
On Wednesday, he first told the House Armed Services Committee that a “democratic transition” was the only solution.
It only took the admiral a few hours to walk back his remarks, as his spokesman later told the US News that Faller’s position ultimately aligned with that of Pompeo.
Both Pomepo and Bolton had called on the Venezuela army to join the coup, pledging that Washington would consider all options including a military intervention to oust Maduro.
Intelligence on Venezuela ‘very good’
Shanahan dismissed reports that Trump was frustrated at his intelligence officials, saying, “I don’t feel like we have an intelligence gap.”
“We have multiple sources that we constantly sample, and then we have all sorts of other ways of doing collection … I feel very confident in the quality and the accuracy of the information that we are getting,” he added.
Some observers are drawing analogies between Washington’s current behavior with what it did before attacking Iraq, warning that a military action is becoming more and more probable.
Prior to US invasion of Iraq back in 2003, then President George W. Bush and his top aides made the case for intervention by citing intelligence that the country’s former dictator, Saddam Hussein, was secretly developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction.
Both claims were proven false, however. Bush and his aides had exaggerated the available intelligence.
Trump once called the invasion of the Muslim country the “worst decision ever made” by Washington.
Trump frustrated with Bolton
The US president, who has long threatened Venezuela with military action, appeared more cautious this week.
Citing officials familiar with the issue, CNN reported on Friday that Trump has become frustrated as Bolton and others openly teased military options.
The president has even told friends that if Bolton had his way he’d already be at war in multiple places, the report said.
Trump, Putin discuss Venezuela
On Friday, the US president spoke by telephone with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, in what Trump later described as “a very positive conversation” on Venezuela.
Trump claimed that he and Putin were in agreement, and that Putin “is not looking at all to get involved there.”
Had a long and very good conversation with President Putin of Russia. As I have always said, long before the Witch Hunt started, getting along with Russia, China, and everyone is a good thing, not a bad thing…
Russia issued its own statement on the conversation, saying Putin warned that “attempts to change the government in Caracas by force undermine prospects for a political settlement of crisis.”
The Russian president also “underscored that only the Venezuelans themselves have the right to determine the future of their country,” according to Kremlin.
Pompeo will be meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Finland next week to discuss the Venezuela crisis.
Lavrov said Popmpeo spoke with him on the phone on Wednesday, calling on Moscow to abandon support for Venezuela’s elected government.