Is Donald Trump employing old Reagan gambit?

Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist

Gwynne Dyer

Last Sunday I wrote a piece on the political crisis in Venezuela. Then on Wednesday I wrote an article on Donald Trump’s hyperbolic language about North Korea. But it never occurred to me that the next article would be about Trump, North Korea AND Venezuela. I forgot about the Reagan Gambit.

In October, 1983, US President Ronald Reagan had a little problem. A massive truck-bomb had killed 241 American Marines in their barracks at Beirut airport. That was more than a quarter of the total American force deployed as “peacekeepers” to Lebanon – a deployment that had already become controversial in the United States. So Reagan had some explaining to do.

In another part of the world entirely, the tiny Caribbean island nation of Grenada, pop. 90,000, had another military coup – a coup within the coup. A radical pro-Cuban politician called Maurice Bishop,who had overthrown the elected government, was executed by his fellow revolutionaries over some minor differences of opinion. A pity, perhaps, but of no more importance to the rest of the world than Grenada itself.

The Cold War was running quite hot in this period, so although the island had no strategic value the American right was getting upset about Russians and Cubans building an airport on Grenada. In the normal course of events this would probably not have led to an American invasion, but Reagan badly needed a political distraction.

On 25 October, precisely two days after the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, the US military began a full-scale invasion of Grenada on Reagan’s orders. It was one of history’s most one-sided battles – only 19 Americans killed, although the US handed out 5,000 medals for merit and valour – but it did the trick.

A friend said to me at the time that Reagan had gone home and kicked the cat, which was true enough, but conquering Grenada didn’t just make him feel better. There’s only room for one lead story at a time, and Grenada pushed Beirut aside in the US media. When Reagan quietly pulled the remaining Marines out of Lebanon four months later, few people even remembered to ask what those other Marines had died for.

And now Donald Trump, stumbling deeper each day into an confrontation with North Korea over nuclear-armed ICBMs he swore that Pyongyang would never get, may be looking for a way out. So on Sunday, he said: “We have many options for Venezuela – and by the way, I am not going to rule out a military option.”

He said it although nobody had asked him if he was planning to invade Venezuela. (It hadn’t occurred to anybody that he might.) And he said it from his golf course in New Jersey. (Reagan made his Grenada decision on a golf course too). And it certainly did take North Korea out of the news for at least one or two cycles.

He then offered a classic Trumpian non-justification for threatening to use military force in Venezuela: “This is our neighbor. You know, we are all over the world and we have troops all over the world in places that are very, very far away. Venezuela is not very far away and the people are suffering, and they are dying. We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary.”

So be on your best behaviour, all you other governments in Latin America and Canada, or he might come for you too. But is he actually planning to invade Venezuela, a fairly well-armed country of 30 million people?

Trump has already given President Nicolas Maduro’s beleaguered regime a propaganda gift by strengthening its argument that its opponents are all traitors and American spies. Does he realise that an American invasion of Venezuela would trigger both a bloody civil war and a prolonged anti-American resistance movement?

Probably not. He knows that Venezuela is a superpower in the “Miss Universe” universe, but he will not have read the full briefing paper unless they remembered to put his name in every paragraph (and he may have caught onto that trick by now).

It would be nice if this threat about Venezuela were evidence that Trump knows he is in over his head with North Korea and is looking for a face-saving way out, but it’s not likely to be true. It’s much more likely to be just another example to his scattershot approach to dealing with a problem: create as many other problems as possible, and the pressure will come off.

Ronald Reagan knew he had walked into a hornet’s nest in Lebanon, and just needed to create a diversion while he found a way of getting American troops out of the Middle East. It’s not clear that Trump even understands that he is in deep trouble, and that he is at risk of starting a nuclear war in order to prevent one.

Stream-of-consciousness decision-making is unfailingly interesting, if you are using “interesting” in the sense of the faux-Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.” But in real life, that’s the last place you want to live.

Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

Just Posted

Community invited to check out mining trade show in Trail

Trade show free and open public on Wednesday and Thursday in the Trail Memorial Centre

Grand Forks to receive business recovery funds post-flood

The community will receive two Rural Dividends grants for a total of $655,000.

Police seek witnesses to fatal weekend accident

Wayne Kernachan was struck by a vehicle while responding to an accident

Pedestrian killed on Highway 22 Saturday evening

Police say 51-year-old man died after being hit by car

UPDATE: DriveBC says highway re-opened after accident

Highway 22 closed for seven hours on Saturday

Six students arrested, charged in sex assault probe at Toronto all-boys school

The school’s principal, Greg Reeves, described the video of the alleged sexual assault as ‘horrific’

Ottawa Redblacks defensive back Jonathan Rose suspended for Grey Cup

Rose was flagged for unnecessary roughness and ejected for contacting an official with 37 seconds left in the first half following a sideline melee after a Tiger-Cats reception.

Mistrial declared in Dennis Oland’s retrial in father’s murder

The verdict from Oland’s 2015 murder trial was set aside on appeal in 2016 and a new trial ordered. Richard Oland, 69, was found dead in his Saint John office on July 7, 2011.

Laine scores 3 as Jets double Canucks 6-3

Injury-riddled Vancouver side drops sixth in a row

Deportation averted for Putin critic who feared return to Russia

Elena Musikhina, a vocal critic of the Kremlin, has been granted a two-year visitor’s permit in Canada

B.C. to allow Uber-style ride hailing services to operate in late 2019

Fee will be applied to fund options for disabled people

Auditor general takes aim at Liberals’ fighter-jet plan

Suditor general Michael Ferguson is about to release a new report on Canada’s attempts to buy new fighter jets

B.C. couple converts ambulance into a traveling home

The Revelstoke couple plan on touring B.C. ski hills then driving to Mexico

Cyclist defecates, throws own poop at car following B.C. crash

Man defecates in the street before throwing it at a driver locked in her vehicle

Most Read