Matthew Dickinson makes a very good point about President Obama's foreign policy that I think is relevant to Latin America as well. In sum, so many of the challenges the U.S. faces are not clearly immediate security problems, even though many people want to frame them in that way.
Lacking a consensus regarding the severity of the threat ISIS poses makes it difficult to fashion a coherent foreign policy response. More generally, this has been the problem that has plagued Obama throughout his presidency as he has confronted a series of regional hotspots. As Braumoeller writes, “Sometimes the main actors agree on fundamental values and policies—as the Great Powers did, for a time, during the Concert of Europe after the Napoleonic Wars. More often, though, no foreign policy is completely successful. What that means is that, while everyone ends up at least a little bit frustrated, no one is so dissatisfied with the status quo that they are willing to exert the effort that would be needed to change it.” As Braumoeller’s argument implicitly suggests, Obama’s foreign policy appears to lack an underlying principle in large part because the President does not appear convinced that the issues he confronts – the Ukraine separatist movement, the fight in Gaza, and now ISIS’ effort to establish a caliphate – clearly affect U.S. national interests. As Braumoeller puts it, “Simply put, the challenges that remain are not sufficiently compelling to prompt us to attempt them in the face of determined opposition.” The result is a foreign policy that appears reactive because although Obama appears unpersuaded that a stronger foreign policy response is warranted, neither does he feel free to completely disengage from each of these hotspots, particularly when the status quo is in danger of unraveling.
This fits Venezuela--not perfectly but still to a compelling degree. Despite the best efforts of some conservatives to label Chávez/Maduro as regional threats, it's hard to make that stick. Thus far Obama has decided--rightly in my opinion--not to risk alienating Latin American governments and possibly strengthening Maduro by imposing sanctions. This fits the "don't do stupid stuff" idea but also reflects a basic strategic calculation that such actions would very likely cause more harm (both to the U.S. and to Venezuelans) than good. In other words, there is not enough of a U.S. interest involved to take such risks. This then makes his administration appear rudderless.
The same logic pertains to Cuba, China's expanded trade relationships, Hezbollah, Iran, etc. that are commonly listed as threats Obama is ignoring. The fact of the matter is that the United States does not face threats from Latin America, which really should be seen as something to celebrate. There are major problems, to be sure, including the political climate in Venezuela, but the question is how much the U.S. should wield a big stick to deal with it.