A Dickensian Tale
To paraphrase Charles Dickens: It was the most unifying of times, it was the most divisive of times; it was the epoch of unquestioning belief, it was the epoch of perpetual incredulity; it was the spring of blind faith, it was the winter of discerning despair. Donald John Trump, bankrupt real estate developer, successful reality television star and 45th President of the United States has managed to turn Americans against each other in a profound, gut-wrenching way, while uniting the civilized world in a new, unflattering view of the United States. Lady Liberty’s torch is no longer the shining representative of American values. We are no longer reliable, honorable partners. Perhaps the President, proud of being disruptive, sees this as his greatest achievement. Perhaps he’s blinded by the brilliance he sees reflected in the mirror.
Trump the President
Trump repeatedly brags that he’s been able to do what no President before him has done. If turning allies against us and unifying countries hostile to us is one of those achievements, I agree. Of course, fracturing the common ideals and pride Americans usually share might rank first on that list.
The President’s divisiveness is abundantly obvious. By his own words and actions, he’s made clear he only cares about the support and adulation of his followers. Policies he champions are those that benefit them. The rest of us receive mocking derision, and demeaning insults. He refuses to be the president of every citizen. We are despised adversaries, although we account for more than 50% of the U.S. population. These are the best of times for Trump supporters and the worst of times for everyone else.
Withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Agreement
Driven by hubris and an obsessive envy of Obama, Trump withdrew from the Iran Nuclear agreement. Following his business model of threatening and bullying to make a deal, he reinstated crippling sanctions against Iran, asserting this would drive the Iranians to negotiate a new and better agreement. While he has managed to devastate the Iranian economy, he has not brought the Iranian government to the negotiating table.
A sizable and vocal group of Iranian citizens began protesting against the repressive, corrupt and economically incompetent government. Except for an outright rebellion and overthrow of that government, Trump couldn’t have asked for anything better. But with his willful lack of interest and knowledge, he didn’t understand or appreciate the implications.
Military Actions and Responses
But—and it can’t be repeated often enough—Trump isn’t a strategic thinker. He lacks the ability to create long-term policy and doesn’t seem to comprehend the cascade of consequences. On December 27th the Iraqi airbase in Kirkuk was attacked. A U.S. contractor was killed, and others injured. The U.S. believed Hezbollah was responsible, and on December 29th retaliated with an attack on their storage depots and command and control installations in Iraq and Syria. On December 31st Iraqi Shiite militiamen and their supporters broke into the compound of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, breaking windows and setting fires before being repelled.
This must have really hit a nerve. Trump had relished attacking the Obama administration, blaming it for failing to protect the lives of diplomats at the US Embassy in Benghazi, Libya. Baghdad was not going to become his Benghazi. He would show the world just how strong and powerful a leader he is.
On January 3rd, 2020, on Trump’s orders, the U.S. assassinated Major General Qassem Soleimani, Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force. The justification for this act has been a moving target. On January 4th Trump said, “Soleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel, but we caught him in the act and terminated him.” Pressed for details, on January 8th Trump cited evidence he had seen that Soleimani was planning to “blow up” the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Later, one embassy became four embassies.
But that story was contradicted by Defense Secretary Mark Esper. Several other explanations were floated before they sank. It was later revealed that Trump had actually issued the kill order seven months earlier. Aside from the lies and dubious legality, it’s obvious that, as usual, Trump never considered the consequences.
Soleimani was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans and deserved what he got. But Trump, the stable genius, never bothered to understand why his predecessors, Obama and Bush, did not order Soleimani’s assassination, despite opportunities to do so. From Donald’s puffed up perspective they just weren’t as strong. Unfortunately for all of us, strength that comes from restraint isn’t a familiar concept to our current Commander-in-Chief. Neither is the value of wisdom..
Why the Assassination?
Of course, it’s hard to ignore an alternative explanation for Trump’s actions. He’s been known to try and “change the subject” when he’s in hot water. And impeachment is probably as hot as it gets for a president. Perhaps he thought he could change the subject permanently. But wishing won’t make it so. Nancy Pelosi’s calculated delay in delivering the articles of impeachment allowed time for new damning evidence to be revealed. As a result, Trump’s guilt became more evident and obvious. In addition, new evidence implicated several other key administration officials.
But I digress.
After Trump’s assassination of Soleimani, a revered war hero to his people, protesters turned into patriotic supporters of the government. Chants of “Death to America” filled the air as the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei announced missile strikes on U.S. bases in Iraq. Patriotism might have carried the day but for the ineptitude of the Iranian military. It unintentionally shot down a Ukrainian civilian airliner killing all on board, including many Iranians. Unwilling to admit their mistake, they initially claimed the cause was mechanical failure. But with evidence of missiles hitting the plane, the military was later forced to admit its culpability. Protestors turned their wrath against the government again, while maintaining and stoking fresh hatred directed at the United States.
Anger created by the Soleimani killing was not restricted to Iran. Like Iran, Iraq is principally a Shiite country. Ever since the U.S. invasion, Shiites gave power to Shiite politicians who built close relationships with Iran. But for the past few months Iraqis have revolted against the central Shiite government they believe has neglected them. They also turned their wrath on Iran and Shiite militias as the source of their grief, storming Iranian consulates. More than 500 people were killed, forcing the prime minister to resign.
Another country turning on Iran should have made Trump triumphant, though he may not have been aware of it, or put the pieces of the puzzle together. He never mentioned it in his tweets. Maybe it’s too confusing. At rallies he’s been more upset about the difficulty of using washing machines or flushing toilets. But even if he had the information, he certainly had no understanding of how to use that strategically to isolate Iran.
When Trump killed Soleimani in the drone attack at the Baghdad Airport, he ignited furor against the United States. The Iraqi Parliament retaliated, voting to end the 2014 agreement allowing Washington to maintain troops in Iraq to fight ISIS. Now, Iraqis want the U.S. out of Iraq—another example of unifying a country against the United States. Ironically, one of Soleimani’s objectives was to get the U.S. out of Iraq. Trump is doing all he can to make it come true. Maybe he is honoring a dying man’s last wish
Then there is Turkey and its President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In June 2019, Erdogan’s chosen candidate lost again in a do-over election for mayor of Istanbul. The size of the loss indicated a substantial number had deserted Erdogan’s governing party, the A.K.P., and Erdogan himself. In many respects this could have benefited the United States. Despite being a NATO member, this authoritarian leader has been moving closer to Russia. His weakening public support should have been an opportunity for the United States to reinforce its ties and alliance with Turkey. But maybe that’s not what’s most important to Trump. Perhaps it’s his personal financial interests that preclude antagonizing Erdogan.
Therefore, we should not have been surprised that against the advice of all his advisors, Trump abandoned the Kurds in northern Syria, removed U.S. troops and ceded the area to Turkey, enhancing Erdogan’s stature in the process.
As a reward, Erdogan moved even closer to Russia, making a deal with Putin apportioning influence in northern Syria. Trump’s apparent bumbling is more likely the result of his need to protect his personal business investments in Turkey. But in the process Trump unifies the interests of those hostile to the United States. Nonetheless he continues to believe he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.
What may be the coup de grace, Trump’s hero, Vladimir Putin, is restructuring the Russian government. It looks like he will declare himself Emperor, King or some other permanent monarchial title. And he couldn’t do it without Trump’s invaluable support.
With his impeachment trial in progress and re-election on the horizon, I’m afraid even worse times are ahead.
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