The US military is on ‘the balls of its feet’ about Venezuela’s crisis — here’s what that means, according to a former NATO commander

  • As Venezuela’s crises drag on, attention has turned to what the US military could do in response.
  • President Donald Trump first suggested potential military action in late 2017, but he and other US current officials have said little about what that could look like.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The US military’s role in response to the ongoing crisis in Venezuela is gaining attention, particularly after President Donald Trump first said an armed response was possible in August 2017.

The Defense Department has said little about its planning and potential action toward the South American country, where political and economic turmoil have immiserated the public and led to international condemnation for President Nicolas Maduro, whose 2018 national election victory is widely viewed to be illegitimate.

Read more: Trump leaves ‘military option’ on the table for Venezuela, which he calls as threatening as North Korea

In recent days, however, US Navy Adm. Craig Faller, the head of US Southern Command, which oversees US operations south of Mexico’s southern border, has said his forces are on “the balls of their feet.”

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro at a ceremony in Caracas, April 13, 2019.

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Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro at a ceremony in Caracas, April 13, 2019.
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Reuters

Faller hasn’t said much about what that means, but James Stavridis, a retired admiral who led Southern Command and was NATO supreme allied commander, elaborated on Wednesday about what’s going on at the command’s Miami headquarters.

“Their job is to look throughout the entire hemisphere to the south,” Stavridis said of Southern Command during an appearance on the Hugh Hewitt radio show, during which he called Faller a “superb officer.”

“Balls of their feet means that they’re getting out all of their operational plans. They’re looking at where all of our military forces are deployed through the region, particularly maritime forces in the Caribbean, but air, sea, land, everything,” Stavridis said.

Read more: John Bolton says Venezuela’s Maduro could end up in a ‘beach area like Guantánamo’

“It does not mean that we are preparing to invade Venezuela or launch military strikes. We are not,” he added. “But it does mean that the military has to be prepared for everything from protecting American citizens, and there are tens of thousands of them, if not a 100,000-plus, in Venezuela to intelligence … [to] as you hear [Trump] say, contemplating an embargo of Cuba.”

“That’s an interesting thing to hear from the commander in chief. I suspect Southern Command is looking at what that would mean,” Stavridis said of Trump’s threat to impose a “full and complete embargo” and the “highest level sanctions” on Cuba if Havana did not end its support of Maduro.

‘Anything we can do … we should be doing’

Sailors aboard US Navy ship Michael Monsoor while leaving Cartagena, Colombia, November 27, 2018.

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Sailors aboard US Navy ship Michael Monsoor while leaving Cartagena, Colombia, November 27, 2018.
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US Navy/Mass Comm. Specialist 1st Class John Philip Wagner, Jr

US Southern Command said in a statement Wednesday that it is “monitoring the situation in Venezuela and remains prepared to support all options” when requested by senior military leadership.

“We continue to work with our partners in the region, and are in full support of the diplomatic effort for a peaceful, democratic transition of power in Venezuela,” the statement said.

A US Southern Command spokesman declined to comment on Stavridis’ remarks specifically, pointing to Faller’s statements before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, when he testified alongside the head of US Northern Command and senior Defense Department officials.

Read more: Rep. Ilhan Omar had a heated exchange with Trump’s Venezuela envoy over his role in the US’s violent history in Central America

“Anything we can do to impact and pressure Venezuela and continue this necessary transition to democracy, we should be doing, and I know we’re looking at that across the full range,” Faller said in response to a question from Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz.

Faller has previously said that that the US military was ready to protect US diplomats in Venezuela. On Wednesday, however, he declined to discuss “details of the different courses of action, things we’re looking at” in open testimony.

But, he said, “broadly … the leadership’s been clear, our job’s to be ready, and we’re on the balls of our feet.”

People on a container blocking the Simon Bolivar bridge between Colombia and Venezuela in Cucuta, Colombia, April 2, 2019.

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People on a container blocking the Simon Bolivar bridge between Colombia and Venezuela in Cucuta, Colombia, April 2, 2019.
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Reuters

The Southern Command chief also described Cuba as a malefactor in the region and in Venezuela, where he said Havana was “just completely protecting Maduro and the inner circle” and had infiltrated the military and intelligence services.

“So putting pressure on Cuba is a good thing. Maximum pressure [is] a good thing,” Faller said, adding that his command was aware of Trump’s statement about a potential strengthening of the US embargo on Cuba.

“We’re carefully looking at plans, what it would take to do that,” he said. “And I’m not prepared to discuss in an open setting what it would take.”