Sunday, January 5, 2020

Weekend Roundup

In his 2019 State of the Union address, Donald Trump warned:

An economic miracle is taking place in the United States -- and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations. If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It doesn't work that way!

I remembered the quote slightly differently: as Trump saying that the only things that could stop America (by which he meant himself) are partisan investigations and stupid wars. Trump has blundered his way into both now.

After the Democrats won the House in 2018, it was inevitable that they would start investigating the Trump administration's rampant corruption and flagrant abuses of power, something Republicans in Congress had turned a blind eye to. It was not inevitable, or even very likely, that Trump would be impeached. Speaker Pelosi clearly had no desire to impeach, until Trump gave them a case where he had run so clearly afoul of national security orthodoxy that Democrats could present impeachment as fulfillment of their patriotic duty.

On closer examination, it's possible that the only war Trump was thinking of in the speech was one of Democrats against himself, but he had waged a successful 2016 campaign as the anti-war candidate -- a challenge given his fondness for bluster and violence, but one made credible by his opponent's constant reminders that she would be the tougher and more menacing Commander in Chief. But as president he's followed his gut instincts, and escalated his way to approximate war with Iran: not his first stupid war, but the first unquestionably attributable to his own folly.

The simplest explanation of how Trump got into war against Iran is that he basically auctioned US foreign policy off to the highest bidders, especially Israel and Saudi Arabia. (One should recall that Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson is also Benjamin Netanyahu's fairy godfather.) Israel and Saudi Arabia wanted Trump to tear up Obama's anti-nuclear arms agreement with Iran, so he did. They wanted Trump to strangle Iran with extra sanctions, so he did. They also wanted Trump to directly attack "Iranian-backed" militias in Iraq and Syria, so once again he did their bidding. That belligerence and those escalations have gotten us to exactly where we are, and it was all totally unnecessary, if only Trump had attempted instead to build on the good will Obama originally established. Granted, Obama could have gone further himself toward opening up cordial relations with Iran, but he too was limited by Israel and Saudi Arabia -- indeed, the letter of his agreement was meant to satisfy Israeli and Saudi demands that Iran halt nuclear weapons efforts, and indeed was the only possible approach that achieve those demands. The only thing that opposition to the treaty proves is that the demands weren't based on serious fears -- they were nothing but political posturing, meant to scam gullible Americans.

The only other explanation I can think of is that Trump has an unannounced foreign policy agenda, which basically inverts Theodore Roosevelt's dictum: "speak softly but carry a big stick." Perhaps Trump realizes that America's "stick" isn't nearly as intimidating as it was during the era of the Roosevelts, so he's compensating by shouting, often incoherently. Even if he doesn't realize the US has lost the respect and trust it once enjoyed -- in decline due to years of increasing selfishness and numerous bad decisions, further exacerbated by Trump's "America first" rhetoric -- the frustration of defiance must boil his blood. Whatever insight he once had about investigations and wars has long since been buried in the hubris of his rantings. That loss of clarity makes him even stupider than usual, leading him beyond blunders to crimes, against us and even against himself.

The result is that once again we're praying, and not for the redemption of the inexcusable behavior of the Trump administration, but for the greater sanity of Iran's leaders, the discipline not to play into Trump's madness. Unfortunately, Americans have never shown much aptitude for learning from their mistakes. Indeed, the only people who have ever learned anything from war were those who lost so badly their folly could not be shifted elsewhere -- e.g., Japan after WWII. Iran's eight-year war with Iraq wasn't a full-fledged defeat, but Iranians suffered horribly, and that has surely dampened their enthusiasm for war. On the other hand, the sanctions they already face must feel like war, without even the promise of striking back.

PS: I wrote the above, and most of the comments below, on Saturday, before this story broke: Riley Beggin: Iraqi Parliament approves a resolution on expelling US troops after Soleimani killing. As I wrote below, this would be the best-case scenario. Since Iraq appears to have no control over what US forces based there actually do, the only way Iraqis can escape being caught in the middle is to expel the Americans. Moreover, it's hard to see how Trump could keep troops in Iraq without the consent of Iraq's government. Note that this won't end the threat of war. The US still has troops and navy based around the Persian Gulf, from which it can launch attacks against Iran. But expulsion should extricate Iraq from being in the middle of Trump's temper tantrum.

On the other hand, Mike Pompeo has already rejected Iraq's vote, saying, "We are confident that the Iraqi people want the United States to continue to be there to fight the counterterror campaign." See Quint Forgey: Pompeo sticks up for US presence as Iraq votes to eject foreign troops.

Here are some links on Trump and Iran:

Some scattered links this week:

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