In a Miami speech on Thursday afternoon, Trump administration national security advisor (and persistent advocate for spreading democracy at the point of a gun/drone/ballistic missile) John Bolton promised the United States would take a more aggressive stance towards left-wing dictators in Latin America.
Specifically, Bolton identified the nations of Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela as a "Troika of Tyranny" responsible for "immense human suffering" and the cause of "enormous regional instability." Bolton made it clear that the Trump administration would be putting more pressure on Cuban president Raúl Castro, Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega, and Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro—with the goal of seeing "each corner of the triangle fall," according to The Washington Post's Josh Rogin.
If this seems like almost comically bad rebranding of the George W. Bush administration's "Axis of Evil"—consisting of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea—well, that's because it is.
It's also a political maneuver. Delivering this sort of tough talk just days before the midterms is at least partially an attempt to court Cuban voters (and Hispanic voters more broadly) who will be crucial to the outcome of Florida's gubernatorial and Senate races.
Though the speech lacked specific policy proposals, there are at least a few concrete plans. Vox reports that Bolton called on Maduro to release hundreds of political prisoners, while the Trump administration is also ramping up sanctions against Venezuela and tightening diplomatic backchannels with Cuba.
To be sure, dictators Castro, Ortega, and Maduro have openly embraced socialist economic policies that have ravaged their countries and created humanitarian nightmares. An estimated 2 million people have fled Venezuela since 2014, seeking refuge from the financial collapse that has made it virtually impossible to buy even the most basic goods. Latin America would be a better place without those three men and the poisonous ideology they've inflicted on millions.
The best thing the United States could do is accept the refugees fleeing those oppressive states and recognize them for what they are: human beings seeking freedom and a better life. Given the Trump administration's general view of immigration, however, I'm rather skeptical that's going to happen. Indeed, whatever form this more aggressive posture takes—particularly if it includes sanctions on countries where people are already starving—it is a good bet that it won't help the people who most need it.
Slapping labels like "Troika of Tyranny" on the three countries is unlikely to do much good. At best, it's a diplomatic mistake that will make it more difficult to do the important work of stoking capitalism and freedom across Latin America. Lumping together the different circumstances of three different countries is foolish—dealing with a slowly liberalizing Cuba requires a different approach than dealing with the complete humanitarian disaster that is Venezuela.
At worst, this is a prelude to policies that will make the situation worse, just like the infamous Axis of Evil speech was part of the calculated build-up to going to war with Iraq. In some ways, this is old hat for Bolton. Before he became one of the primary cheerleaders for the Iraq War, Bolton actually floated the idea of invading Cuba over suspected chemical weapons (which were later found to not exist).
It's unclear whether Bolton is suggesting that military options are on the table for dealing with these Latin American dictators—though Trump has already floated the incredibly stupid idea of a military invasion of Venezuela at least once, and Bolton has never been known for his foreign policy restraint.
Even if this isn't the first step on the road to a Latin American version of the Iraq War, Bolton's suggestion that he's seeking the "collapse" of Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela should be worrying. As he should have learned by now, you can't fix regional instability by creating more of it.