But during that same speech, Pence also made another set of comments that could hint at the Trump administration’s aggressive foreign policy and military options in the new year.
“Beyond our global competitors, the United States faces a wolf pack of rogue states,” Pence told U.S. ambassadors who were gathered in Washington for an annual meeting known as the Global Chiefs of Mission Conference. “No shared ideology or objective unites our competitors and adversaries except this one: They seek to overturn the international order that the United States has upheld for more than half a century.”
Pence’s Wolf Pack is reminiscent of former President George W. Bush’s Axis of Evil, as first reported by Bloomberg news.
That phrase was used during Bush’s tenure in the White House to describe Iran, Iraq and North Korea. The three states were singled out as sponsors of terror and seekers of weapons of mass destruction, according to the Bush administration.
In 2003, the U.S. military ousted the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq under the pretense that the country was concealing WMDs.
Pence’s new group includes those in the Axis of Evil — minus Iraq — but also some newcomers.
“First, there’s the world’s biggest state-sponsor of terror, which is grappling for dominance in the Middle East by spreading mayhem in any country that opposes it. Of course, I speak of the Islamic Republic of Iran," Pence said. “Then there’s the specter of dictatorship, which haunts the people of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.”
“And while the president has started a promising dialogue with Chairman Kim [Jong Un], we still await concrete steps by North Korea to dismantle the nuclear weapons that threaten our people and allies in the region," he added.
As Bloomberg notes, Vladimir Putin’s government in Russia is absent from the list. Over the course of Putin’s time in office, Russia has annexed portions of Georgia and Ukraine, and caused considerable anxiety among NATO allies in Eastern Europe.
The Trump administration’s Syria policy started to shift away from defeating ISIS and toward countering Iranian influence in September. Given the president’s stated desire to leave Syria, it is unclear how that goal will manifest in the future.
But does he plan a U.S.-led military intervention?
Venezuela, which is suffering a protracted economic crisis under the leadership of President Nicolas Maduro, has shifted into what many policymakers warn is a dictatorship.
U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton, a former Bush administration official, previously warned that Venezuela’s current leadership is poisonous.
The U.S. “will no longer appease dictators and despots near our shores in this hemisphere," Bolton said during a speech at Miami Dade College on Nov. 2.
Top U.S. officials reportedly met with Venezuelan dissidents who floated the idea of a U.S.-backed coup of Maduro, according to the New York Times. But the Trump administration rebuked the offer, instead pushing for sanctions and humanitarian aid in the form of a U.S. Navy hospital ship.