CNN's Fareed Zakaria weighs in on President Trump's Venezuela policy, where the U.S. and Russia are at odds.
"I have never alleged collusion or conspiracy between Russia and Trump, writing merely that we should wait to see what evidence Mueller presented," he said. "But the real puzzle remains: Why has Trump been unwilling to confront Putin in any way on any issue? And will Venezuela finally be the moment when Trump finally ends his appeasement?"
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN: President Trump faces a crucial test of his foreign policy and his resolve over Venezuela. His administration has made absolutely clear the U.S. no longer considers Nicolas Maduro to be president. A far stronger declaration than the red line Barack Obama drew around Syria's Assad.
So far, Trump's pressure hasn't worked. Maduro has dug in and the military hasn't abandoned its support for him. Venezuela is a complicated, divided country and Maduro as the heir to the legacy of Hugo Chavez has some support in rural areas. But far more significant in bolstering the regime in Caracas has been Russia's open and substantial support. Moscow now admits it sent military personnel to Venezuela. Two Russian military planes arrived last weekend carrying about a hundred troops.
It's the latest a series of moves by Moscow to shore up Maduro. Over the last few years, Russia has provided wheat, arms, credit, and cash to the flailing government. Estimates of Russia's total investment vary from $20 to $25 billion. The Venezuela gambit appears to be personally significant for Vladimir Putin. In recent years, as the Venezuelan government tanked and political stability has grown, even most Russian companies have abandoned the country, viewing it as too risky. But as Vladimir Rouvinski writes in a Wilson Center report, Russian state-controlled oil giant Rosneft, which has close ties to Putin has persisted and even ramped up the support for Maduro. In other words, Putin is always in with his support for Maduro. He's doing this to prop up an old ally and because it adds to Russia's clout in global oil markets.
But above all, because it furthers Putin's central foreign policy objective. The formation of a global anti-American coalition of countries that can frustrate Washington's purposes and usher in a more multi-polar world.
Putin's efforts seem designed to taunt the United States which announced the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, warning foreign powers to stay out of the Western hemisphere. The big question for Washington is, will it allow Moscow to make a mockery of another American red line. The U.S. and Russia have taken opposing, incompatible stands on this issue. As with Syria, there's a danger that if Washington does not back its words with deeds, a year from now, we'll be watching the consolidation of the Maduro regime supported by Russian arms and money.
The administration has been tough on Russian involvement in Venezuela. Trump himself declared Russia has to get out. But that's an unusual sentiment from Trump who has almost never criticized Vladimir Putin and often sided with Russia on matters big and small. As former ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul has written, Trump has a remarkably consistent pattern of supporting Putin's goals. Trump has threatened to withdraw from NATO and announced the removal of American troops from Syria. He publicly disagreed with his own intelligence community's conclusion that Moscow meddled with the 2016 election.
I have never alleged collusion or conspiracy between Russia and Trump, writing merely that we should wait to see what evidence Mueller presented.
The real puzzle remains: Why has Trump been unwilling to confront Putin in any way on any issue?
And will Venezuela finally be the moment when Trump finally ends his appeasement?