- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 1, 2019

National Security Adviser John R. Bolton said Wednesday that while the Trump administration still wants a “peaceful transfer of power” in Venezuela, U.S. military forces are “ready to go” into the South American nation at a moment’s notice.

“There are a lot of options underway,” Mr. Bolton said, asserting that the situation is being closely monitored by the Pentagon, including by Adm. Craig S. Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command, which would oversee any potential U.S. military operation in Venezuela.

“[Adm. Faller] said we’re on the balls of our feet ready to go,” Mr. Bolton said during an appearance on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show Wednesday morning. “That’s the kind of attitude we need.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted Wednesday morning during an appearance on Fox Business Network that President Trump “has been crystal clear and incredibly consistent: ‘Military action is possible.’”

U.S.-backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido on Tuesday unexpectedly called for a general uprising to oust socialist President Nicolas Maduro, appealing to the South American country’s military leaders to desert the president. Despite open U.S. prodding, those military leaders appeared — for now — to be sticking with the regime.

Mr. Pompeo said Wednesday that “we’d prefer a peaceful transition of government there where Maduro leaves and a new election is held, but the president has made clear in the event that there comes a moment … he is prepared to do that if that’s what’s required.”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. told a congressional hearing Wednesday that U.S. troops are prepared to provide additional assistance to Venezuela should Mr. Trump call for it, but Adm. Faller told the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday that he has not received orders to pre-position troops.

Mr. Bolton stopped short of indicating any specific U.S. military action is imminent. Instead, he pointed to a tweet by Mr. Trump on Tuesday night in which the president threatened harsh sanctions against Cuba in retaliation for its military support of Mr. Maduro against Mr. Guaido.

Mr. Bolton said Wednesday that the Trump administration believes there are as many as “25,000 Cuban security forces” in Venezuela” and that their activities are “what’s keeping [Mr. Maduro] in power.”

“If the 20,000 to 25,000 Cuban security forces left today, Maduro would fall by midnight,” the national security adviser said.

Adm. Faller called on the Venezuelan military forces “to do the right thing.” He sent a message to soldiers who are standing behind Mr. Maduro that his “brutal dictatorship … has led to this man-made crisis. Cuba and Russia have invaded your country and disgraced your sovereignty.”

Mr. Bolton denied charges — lodged by Russia and other allies of Mr. Maduro — that the U.S. is spearheading an attempt to intervene in another country’s domestic affairs.

“Propagandists and the international left would love people to believe that this is Yankee imperialism alive again,” Mr. Bolton said, arguing that what’s really happening is “the people of Latin America [are] saying we want the people of Venezuela to have the same freedom we do.”

Unless the Maduro government steps aside, he warned, the number of Venezuelan refugees in neighboring countries — currently estimated at more than 3 million — “could double or go much higher very quickly.”

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