To observe that Donald Trump has said, tweeted and done a lot of alarming things since taking office is an understatement. But nothing has been as scary as the prospect of this erratic, impulsive, quick-to-anger leader single-handedly steering our nation into what easily could flame into a major Middle Eastern conflagration.
This ever-present feeling of being an unwilling passenger in a bus driven by a raving lunatic multiplied ten-fold last week when Trump authorized a drone-strike at the Baghdad airport that killed several people, including Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, widely considered the second most powerful man in Iran. Despite his long record of instigating bloody and damaging attacks against American interests and others, Suleimani enjoyed wide support in Iran and among Shiites across the Middle East.
Arguing that he deserved to die without accounting for the potential consequences of making that happen is irresponsible and dangerous, though that’s apparently what President Trump did in making this mammoth decision.
The question isn’t whether Suleimani was a threat to our national security and a major disruptor on the world stage – those things are not in doubt. The much more important question is whether Trump’s impulsive act – with little or no consultation with Congress or affected allies (including some in harm’s way in Iraq) – is likely to create ripple effects much more damaging to American interests and human life in general than if the Iranian general had been left alone on that airstrip in Baghdad.
Anyone who has paid the least bit of objective attention to how this president conducts himself and his duties should be in a state of four-alarm anxiety about how this new mega-crisis will turn out.
It’s not so much that the Suleimani assassination was a bad decision based on questionable intelligence, as was the case with President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003. The intelligence justifying the Suleimani killing had yet to be released when this was written, though some knowledgeable sources described it as “thin.” Another news report quoted authoritative military sources saying that when the Pentagon presented Trump with a list of options for responding to Iran’s latest provocations last week, it included the “extreme” option of killing Suleimani, in order to make the other options look more palatable.
Statements coming from Trump and Iran’s leaders in the wake of Iran’s missile attack on U.S. air bases in Iraq early Wednesday suggested that both sides were trying to deescalate, at least in the short term. Whether that will hold seems like a doubtful proposition, considering the competing power bases in Iran, the high risk of vengeful Iranian proxies taking matters into their own hands, and most of all, Trump’s capacity for letting anger, machismo pride and impulse overwhelm reason.
Not knowing how Trump will react if the situation escalates – and more importantly what external or internal stimulus will influence that decision – is the scariest aspect of the current crisis. Literally nobody, not even Trump himself, knows what he might do if the situation turns into an escalating tit for tat.
Let me rephrase this; based on Trump’s past foreign policy debacles – Ukraine and the Kurds most recently – the odds are high that he’ll move with impulse rather than reason. Those odds become a near certainty when you consider how little time he spent assessing the consequences of assassinating a top Iranian leader on an airfield in a sovereign nation allied with the U.S.
Only the most brainwashed Trump devotee would waste energy arguing that this man spends any serious time researching his options or listening to authoritative advice from experts.
Despite the pause in escalation signaled by both Trump and Iran’s foreign minister’s tweeted statements on Wednesday, our country remains much closer to another major Middle Eastern war than we were last week. And for no apparent good reason.
After our invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, a few years later you could have asked nearly any American if they would support doing it again if given a second chance, and the answer would have been a hearty no. Ask yourself that now, and I’m confident you’ll still say no.
A war with Iran, most military experts agree, would be far worse than either of those previous Middle Eastern disasters, in terms of deaths, suffering and economic disaster. The threat of a major, disruptive cyber-attack against the U.S. is on the table now, too. Add to that the incalculable danger to world stability, life and peace if Iran succeeds in developing a nuclear weapon – something that was unlikely to happen if Trump hadn’t pulled the U.S. out of a multilateral treaty with Iran when he took office.
Yet, Trump impulsively decided to light the fuse on this one, then ratcheted up the hostility in his usual barrage of tweets. In one of them, sounding like an Old Testament pharaoh, he threatened to commit an international war crime by targeting 52 Iranian sites, “some at a very high level and important to Iran and the Iranian culture,” to match each of the 52 Americans that Iran took hostage in 1979.
If it’s not already too late, let’s do the simple thing right now. Avoid going to war, so that in five or 10 years, we won’t have to look back and wonder why the hell did we do that?!
Perhaps that’s where Trump is heading, based on his relatively calm statements since the Iranians’ retaliatory missile strikes in Iraq early Wednesday. But can we count on that? I sure wouldn’t.
However, if this does blow over short of war with Iran, we should all ask ourselves why we should tolerate a president who puts the entire world through the wringer for a week, while making an already incredibly volatile region much more dangerous than it was before, and all based on what appeared to be a spontaneous impulse.
I don’t know about you all, but the sooner someone else snatches the steering wheel from Mr. Crazy Man, the better I’ll sleep.