Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's evacuation of U.S. diplomats from Venezuela can be explained by three factors. Two are related to protecting U.S. diplomats, and one is related to the Trump administration's impending escalation against Nicolas Maduro. Let's take each in turn.
First, there are Venezuela's ongoing power shortages and the corresponding inability of U.S. diplomats to either live or work effectively. Years of underinvestment in the national power grid means these shortages may continue perpetually.
Second, there are the power shortage's secondary effects in areas such as food and medical supplies, and the growing risk of diseases. Cholera is a particular concern here due to failing water purification systems. Reporting indicates Venezuelans are using dirty water in increasing numbers. My father, a former U.S. Agency for International Development diplomat who served a tour in Bangladesh during the 1980s, tells me, "Dirty water is a much bigger deal than people realize. It could take Venezuela's humanitarian disaster to the next level."
But this humanitarian crisis also portends political ramifications. As the suffering grows, so too will the risk of Venezuela's descent into an uncontrolled civil war, rather than Maduro's removal by military realignment under the interim president, Juan Guaido. If civil war breaks out, U.S. diplomats will be vulnerable to violent pro-regime groups such as the Colectivos, or Maduro himself.
Third, there's Trump's impending escalation against Maduro. On Monday, Guaido formally requested international action to prevent Maduro's continued supply of oil to his security enabler, Cuba. Guaido's action matters because, as the recognized leader of Venezuela, his request gives Trump authority to act in his support under international law. I suspect we will soon see U.S. Navy action to enforce an embargo of Venezuelan oil supplies to Cuba. That action will force Cuba to withdraw its support for Maduro or face its own economic implosion. Assuming Cuba abandons Maduro, which it would ultimately have to do in this scenario, Maduro may lash out at U.S. citizens. Withdrawing U.S. diplomats thus allows the Trump administration to mitigate Maduro's means of retaliation in advance of its own escalation.
In short, the relevant factors all point to this evacuation order being prudent and in service of broader U.S. policy interests.