By Mary Anastasia O’Grady
The Wall Street Journal
The resignation of national security adviser John Bolton is worrying news for Latin America-and for President Trump’s prospects in Florida in 2020. Mr. Bolton’s clear-eyed assessment of the tyrannical regimes in Cuba and Venezuela has informed U.S. policy for 17 months. For many Floridians with roots in the region, the Bolton tenure offered a hopeful reversal of the Obama administration’s years of kowtowing to the military dictatorships in Havana and Caracas.
The resignation, due to policy differences with the president, has spread fear among Trump supporters in Florida who are worried that the Bolton worldview will be replaced with renewed efforts to “dialogue” with Latin despots.
Mr. Trump was alerted to their concern by Sen. Marco Rubio, who tweeted last week that he spoke to the president about Venezuela and that while Mr. Trump “disagreed with some of the views” of Mr. Bolton, “it’s actually the DIRECT OPPOSITE of what many claim or assume. If in fact the direction of policy changes it won’t be to make it weaker.”
Mr. Trump retweeted Mr. Rubio’s statement with a comment: “In fact, my views on Venezuela, and especially Cuba, were far stronger than those of John Bolton. He was holding me back!”
Doubts about that weren’t generated by some far-fetched media conspiracy. Mr. Trump’s strategy for dealing with thugs is at best described as a long game using flattery to break maniacal strongmen. He praises North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and the murmuring in Washington is that he will try to shake hands with Iran’s Hassan Rouhani at the U.N. General Assembly meeting this month.
Word has it that Messrs. Trump and Bolton clashed over inviting the Taliban to a meeting at Camp David the week of Sept. 11. That would have been a humiliation for all Americans and Mr. Bolton objected. After a Taliban attack in Afghanistan killed a U.S. soldier on Sept. 5, the meeting was cancelled. And on Friday human-rights advocate Michael Kozak was named assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere-a good development. Nevertheless, the Taliban proposal naturally leaves conservatives wondering about their president’s judgment.
Conservatives in South Florida didn’t like it when President Obama warmly greeted Venezuelan military dictator Hugo Chávez at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad in 2009. Nor did they approve of President Obama’s schmoozing with Raúl Castro at a baseball game in Havana in 2016 or his support of the so-called peace talks held in Havana with FARC, the pro-Castro Colombian terrorist group.
Chávez died in 2013. But outreach by President Trump to Venezuelan military dictator Nicolás Maduro, who is a Cuban puppet, won’t go down well, either.
The temptation will be there, and not only because Mr. Trump fancies himself a master negotiator who is smarter than those who came before him. Plenty of bureaucrats in Washington and their counterparts in Havana and Caracas celebrated Mr. Bolton’s departure because they want to get back to the negotiating table.
A Sept. 10 Associated Press headline declared, “Venezuela’s socialist govt happy over removal of John Bolton.” According to the story, a regime “official said Bolton’s departure is particularly welcome given his role in the U.S. imposition of crippling oil sanctions and the almost daily attacks on social media aimed at socialist President Nicolas Maduro.”
Fernando Cutz, an Obama administration holdover who worked for Mr. Trump’s previous national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, takes a similar view. “Depending on who comes in, we’ll likely stop seeing the military intervention rhetoric and start seeing more responsible rhetoric, with a greater focus on a potential solution through dialogue,” he told the AP. It’s a line straight out of the Castro regime playbook-and though Mr. Cutz has left government, that thinking lingers inside the bureaucracy.
The real trouble with Venezuela is Cuba. In the book “Cuba’s Intervention in Venezuela: A Strategic Occupation with Global Implications,” Cuba expert Maria Werlau lays bare the workings of the Cuban “cyber octopus that controls Venezuela’s public administration, most of the economy, and a Big Brother database of all citizens.” Venezuelan financing has allowed Cuba to build an army of information-technology specialists. By using an undersea fiber-optic cable, the Cubans “monitor and control all policies and strategies related to Venezuela’s internal security.”
The financial squeeze on Havana, engineered by Mr. Bolton, has had some success but needs more time. On Wednesday Miguel Diaz-Canel, Cuba’s figurehead president, warned that blackouts are coming due to fuel shortages caused by the U.S. sanctions against oil shipments from Venezuela.
Dialogue or not, this-and leaving all options on the table-is what set Mr. Trump’s policy apart from the unrelenting appeasement practiced by Mr. Obama with Castro, Chávez and the terrorist FARC. Call it maximum pressure. As long as it stays in place, the Bolton strategy may still prevail even if the former national security adviser doesn’t get the credit.
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