President Trump was impeached for secretly distorting our Ukrainian policy to get himself elected. But there were so many leaks that he learned his lesson. This time he’s openly distorting our Iranian policy to get elected.
Trump's dramatic distractions hardly surprise us anymore. It's the pathetically undramatic reactions of his critics that really worry me this time.
In the first few hours after we learned that the U.S. military had killed Iran’s Qassem Suleimani, TV pundits tried to explain to a presumably clueless Donald Trump that there could be repercussions. Could be? Repercussions are the point. There may be other reasons for killing this particular Iranian. But Trump’s purpose was to provoke a response that will make him a war-time president.
Here's how we can be sure of his motive.
Normally, when a government orders an assassination, the operation is veiled with "plausible deniability." That’s not the same thing as trying to hide who did it. When Putin sent an agent to kill a man in England the assassin used a poison associated with Russia’s secret police. Putin’s foes were meant to have no doubt about who ordered the job. But Putin didn’t go on TV to cross a name off his enemies list. Proud as must have been, he claimed publicly that he knew nothing about it.
That gave the British government options. They could have expelled Russian diplomats, tied up Russian money, maybe even put out a contract on Putin. But they would first investigate and gather definitive proof to punish the guilty parties in their own good time. The U.S. adopted the same wait-till-it-blows-over strategy when Trump’s favorite Saudi Prince had a journalist chopped up in a Saudi embassy. We’re still waiting for definitive proof on that one.
But instead of building deniability into the Suleimani mission, Trump posted a full-screen American flag on his website to announce its success. By the next day, he was taking bows all around. What options does that leave a poor ranting Mullah?
If, due to caution and their true weakness, the Iranians stop with a retaliation that isn't macho enough, Trump can claim a victory and goad them again closer to the election. These militarists know how to press each other's buttons because they understand the needs of their respective “bases.”
What about Trump’s claim that he had to act now in order to head off a specific Iranian plan against us. That has some built-in truthiness. Suleimani is the General who coordinates Iran’s support for those Middle East militias that harry the U.S. and Saudi backed gangs. That’s what he was doing in Iraq the day he was killed. That’s what he does every day.
If you believe that there was something new afoot that required action now—shortly before his impeachment trial—then you probably still believe there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
I can think of only one way for Trump to justify his timing. He could remind us that "Because of Obama, Iranians don’t currently have nuclear weapons. But because of me they soon may. So we want our war as soon as possible." That’s almost plausible but I don’t think he'll say it.
If I was depressed to hear pundits instruct innocent Donald Trump on possible reprisals for killing Suleimani, think how I feel hearing Democrats instruct him on the proper way to start a war: "Under our constitution, Sir, one needs a congressional declaration."
Haven't they learned anything from the impeachment hearings? Trump's response to their constitutional, procedural, and moral case was neither denial nor admission. His highly successful defense was: "This is boring." Let's not be boring again.