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"The situation is a test of President Donald Trump and his foreign-policy team, including the hawkish national security adviser, John Bolton. This week Mr Bolton hinted at the use of American troops. Barring state violence against American citizens, that would be a mistake." Does it mean that American forces would only be used against its citizens, otherwise it is illegal?

  • The meaning of "mistake" is determined based on the values of the speaker. He might feel it would be illegal, immoral, politically unpopular, or maybe unprofitable. – Hot Licks Feb 7 at 1:41
  • I think a larger sample of this quote is necessary to fully answer this question--it seems likely to me that "that" refers to action mentioned in a previous sentence. – Katy Feb 7 at 1:48
  • @Katy I've add some context. It is discussing possible American action toward Venezuelan affairs. – Lexinton Ave Feb 7 at 1:55
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Thank you for editing in the additional context. "That would be a mistake" refers to "use of American troops."

"Barring" means except for or unless something happens. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/barring

In this case, the sentence means "Unless there is violence perpetrated by the Venezuelan state against American citizens, it would be a mistake to use American troops."

A "mistake" doesn't necessarily mean illegal--it simply means the author thinks it's a bad idea.

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Next time, please give us more context, and/or a link to the text where you found the sentence.

I found the article. I took an extremely brief glance and got the impression that the paragraph that contains your sentence is about whether the US should meddle/intervene in another country or not. That helped me understand the sentence. Here's the meaning, loosely:

Unless violence were perpetrated by the government of the other country against US citizens, intervening/meddling would be a mistake.

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