"Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken's statement in his confirmation hearings to become deputy secretary of state that the Obama administration would not oppose sanctions against Venezuela, prompted by the Maduro regime's repression of democratic protests earlier this year, makes it a virtual certainty that the new Republican Congress will move to impose sanctions next year. This would, I think, have happened in any case. The issue is an irresistible opportunity to show up the Obama administration's laconic and feeble approach to dealing with Latin America's miscreants—exemplified by its feckless failure to prevent Venezuela from securing a seat on the U.N. Security Council earlier this year. An oppositionCongress inevitably tries to contrast its approach with that of the administration.
This can serve to pressure the administration to change course—in this case, to stiffen its spine. Blinken's signal strikes me as wise, turning an inevitability that could have become a stratagem to embarrass the Obama administration into an opportunity for bipartisan cooperation. How promptly the cognizant House and Senate subcommittees turn to this is anyone's guess. The 114th Congress will surely face more urgent priorities, and some subcommittee chairmanships aren't yet announced. But if Rep. Matt Salmon retains the House Western Hemisphere Subcommittee chairmanship and if Sen. Marco Rubio—a sanctions advocate—becomes chairman of the counterpart Senate subcommittee, sanctions legislation seems only a matter of time. And, coming against the background of Maduro's mounting economic problems exacerbated by falling world oil prices, the timing could prove ideal. With luck, sanctions will make the situation much worse—for Maduro's regime.
President Obama’s speech to the nation last night – carried on cable news channels but not on the broadcast networks – was a declaration of political war, a war the president is almost certain to lose.
How nakedly political was it? According to morning press reports, the address was subtitled in Spanish. Perhaps the White House has provided this service before, but I can’t find a record of it. That the president’s team decided to do it for, apparently, the first time this time only confirms the obvious. The speech was not about national policy or the national interest. It was about confrontation. And indeed its raw political purpose was the reason the major television networks gave on background for refusing to carry it.
Read the entire piece here.