The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said Tuesday morning that the U.S. military may have to intervene in Venezuela if Russia places weapons there.
“I think that it could happen,” Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) told the Defense Writers Group. “You’ve got a guy down there that is killing everybody. You could have him put together a base that Russia would have on our hemisphere. And if those things happen, it may be to the point where we’ll have to intervene with troops and respond.”
When asked by The Hill after the breakfast roundtable what type of military action he thinks is appropriate, Inhofe said, “Whatever is necessary should they bring in some armaments on our hemisphere that would be, in the smart peoples’ opinion, something that would be a threat to the United States of America.”
“Then we have to take whatever action necessary to stop them from doing that,” he added.
A senior Russian diplomat said Monday that Venezuela has not asked the Russian military for assistance.
The Trump administration has been dialing up the pressure on Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, whose reelection has been viewed by much of the international community as illegitimate.
As part of that pressure, the Trump administration last month recognized the leader of the country’s National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, as interim president.
President Trump has repeatedly floated the possibility of using U.S. forces to push out Maduro. Earlier this month, he said U.S. military intervention in the country is an “option.”
Speculation over possible U.S. military involvement was raised late last month after national security adviser John Bolton was photographed at a White House press briefing holding a yellow notepad with the words “5,000 troops to Colombia” written on it.
Bolton would not comment on the note, but has said military intervention in Venezuela is not imminent, even as “all options are on the table.”
Last week, the commander of U.S. Southern Command told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the U.S. military is ready to protect Americans and U.S. diplomats in Venezuela “if necessary.”
At the hearing, committee ranking member Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) warned the commander, Adm. Craig Faller, that Congress must be looped in before any military action.
“Congress must be consulted if there is any military planning action beyond the current planning for the evacuation of U.S. citizens and embassy personnel,” Reed said.
On Tuesday, Inhofe said he thinks Trump does not need to consult Congress, but added that the issue is hypothetical.
“I would say consult, but I don’t think it’s necessary,” he told The Hill. “If there is a threat that reaches the threshold of the president having the ability, the constitutional ability of deploying troops, then that’s an unknown. We don’t know right now.”
During the Defense Writers Group roundtable, Inhofe compared the situation in Venezuela to Nicaragua, where in the 1980s the United States backed the Contras against the Cuba-backed Sandinistas.
“I remember so well when Nicaragua was going through this same thing with Cuba,” Inhofe said. “And if we had not taken any steps at all, I don’t know where we’d be. We’d probably still be fighting in Honduras. So I think it depends on where they go and if they decide that they’re going to open up things so that Russia or some other, could be Cuba, probably Russia, would actually have armaments there that would be a threat to our country, yeah we’d have to, not go to war, but use force.”