WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump, in the midst of a week of high tensions with North Korea over its nuclear program, on Friday introduced the possibility of another military confrontation -- with Venezuela -- surprising most observers.
"We have many options for Venezuela," he told reporters at his golf club in New Jersey after meeting with United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and national security adviser H.R. McMaster. "And by the way, I'm not going to rule out a military option."
It was unclear how seriously to take the threat, given Trump's propensity to speak off the cuff and the casual nature of the statement. He often says he does not like to take any options of the table because he believes it keeps adversaries off balance.
But his declaration nonetheless raised concerns of further insecurity at a moment when many around the globe, including allies, are questioning America's ability to continue providing a stable source of world leadership.
The suggestion that Trump would initiate a military operation in Venezuela -- something that no one in the intelligence or diplomatic communities has suggested -- awakened old ghosts of U.S. intervention in Latin America and will do little to preserve the hemispheric unity that Washington had until now mustered in opposition to the abuses of the government of President Nicolas Maduro.
Questions over how seriously to take the threat underscore the unusual nature of the Trump presidency. Normally, such a declaration by a United States president would spark extended debate and command the world's full attention.
"This is not reality TV," Leon Panetta, formerly both secretary of Defense and director of the CIA, told CNN.
The Trump administration has already imposed new economic sanctions this month against Venezuela and Maduro, following an election that solidified the authoritarian leader's grip on the South American country's government.
Trump was elected to office as a fierce opponent of international intervention, frequently criticizing the Iraq war. But this week alone, he has threatened two regimes with military action -- Venezuela and Iraq.
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