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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

No Telling Where Trump Will Go If Iran Chooses War

Trump’s sudden announcement that the U.S. has “taken out’ a revered Iranian military commander led me to this observation for New York:

The president who has endlessly and redundantly attacked open-ended military commitments and expensive and extended conventional warfare has taken an action that many experts think will push Iran to launch a full-on regional war, perhaps even involving interested bystanders like Israel and Saudi Arabia. It could be the mother of all quagmires. So how did this happen and what will Trump do if the sudden strike he authorized sparks significant retaliatory measures from Iran?

We may not know for years, if ever, exactly what transpired in the White House, but the two relevant things to remember about the commander-in-chief are (a) he is by nature a bully, whose creed has always been winning by intimidation with superior force (or in business, via ruinous lawsuits) and (b) to the extent he thinks about war and peace he’s a total throwback to Andrew Jackson and represents Old Hickory’s peculiar combination of non-interventionism and violent militarism. I explained this latter characteristic when he launched an attack on Syria back in 2017:

“Trump [is] a self-consciously ‘Jacksonian’ president who simultaneously reveres military force while despising the ‘globalist’ ideologies that have both justified and restrained its use so often in U.S. history. ‘Jacksonians’ typically oppose entangling alliances and international nation-building exercises, but not only accept but welcome massive violence when America is ‘crossed.’ For Trump in particular, intimidation of enemies is as important to international affairs as it is to business life. That is why Trump constantly attacked Barack Obama for failing to back up his ‘red line’ threats against Syria’s use of chemical weapons (an attack he repeated before launching the cruise missiles last night) even as Trump himself denied any interest in ‘taking sides’ in that country’s messy civil war …

“Trump’s decision to act without consulting, much less asking authorization from, Congress makes perfect sense. For one thing, the ‘strategy’ or ‘comprehensive plan’ that so many senators asked for in their own initial reactions to the attacks on Syria last night may very well not exist. If the missiles were simply intended to put things right after Obama’s ‘cowardice’ and send a message to the world, then there is not and will never be a ‘strategy’ or ‘plan’ with respect to Syria; the violence was an end in itself.”

It’s very likely that is the case today, too. And projecting his own taste for high-stakes gamesmanship onto the Iranians, he may well believe one show of righteous and lethal American power will make them back down.

You don’t reason with these people, he seems to believe: You just have to show ‘em Uncle Sam is the boss.

But what if Trump has miscalculated by assassinating a figure so central to Iran’s national and religious sensibilities that their own sense of honor demands they do not back down? Or what if they believe they can bully the bully thanks to his well-known distaste for getting tied down into an extended military conflict?

Clearly Trump hopes this is a one-off game that he’s already won. In his brief remarks today from Mar-a-Lago, he treated the assassination of Soleimani as a preventive act that interrupted “sinister attacks” on U.S. personnel. And he pointedly said: “We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war.” But it might not be entirely up to him.

It’s at this juncture that things could get really scary. Even if Trump somehow erroneously thinks a conventional war with Iran would ensure his reelection, he is unlikely to want to burden his second term with the kind of endless no-win commitment that sank the despised George W. Bush, in Trump’s own contemptuous estimation. So in the Jacksonian tradition, the most appropriate response to any serious Iranian escalation toward all-out war would be a counter-escalation of great ferocity, which would deliberately ignore any sense of proportion or calibration and display America’s might at its fullest. And if that is Trump’s inclination, it’s unclear whether any of the people around him — or his Republican allies in Congress — who have mostly been frothing for war with Iran for years, would restrain him. It’s certainly doubtful that two of Trump’s favorite allies this side of Russia, Saudi Arabia and Israel, would object to the U.S. getting medieval on their ancient enemy.

Given Trump’s combined taste for violence and distaste for messy conventional warfare, and his limited concern for the lives of non-Americans, you have to assume the worst is possible. Remember this comment (per Alex Ward) he made last summer about Afghanistan?

“Ahead of a Monday meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Trump told reporters at the White House that he could win the war in Afghanistan in just one week if he really, really wanted to. But Trump says he won’t do that because he doesn’t want millions to die.

“’I don’t want to kill 10 million people,’ he said. ‘I have plans on Afghanistan that if I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the earth, it would be gone, it would be over in literally 10 days.’”

If Trump has plans to nuke Afghanistan, he most definitely has plans to nuke Iran, particularly given global worries about Tehran’s own nuclear program. I’m not predicting he’d do anything quite that insane, but the Jacksonian logic of sudden and terrifying force as a first and last resort means nothing lethal is going to be off the table. Lord have mercy on us all.

2 comments on “No Telling Where Trump Will Go If Iran Chooses War

  1. Candace on

    “No Telling Where Trump Will Go If Iran Chooses War”

    Trump is trying to force them into choosing war. His tweets and administration are trying to make everyone think that Iranians are being unreasonable. Iraq is being unreasonable. He did something badass but nothing to retaliate over right? No one is buying it. We can all see that Iran is a nation is mourning now.
    The gop spin machine is out trying to support him. They all think this is an opportunity for a tough guy show while being impeached that will impress everyone and make them forget what he’s done and what they’re trying to do in the Senate, except there is no escaping that this is very real and dangerous situation for us all which only adds to the pile of problems and urgency of removing him and voting Republicans out of office.

    As far as their reasoning goes, have they forgotten that its a common opinion that invading Iraq was a mistake? Trump has said he believes this, so when he says he assassinated Soleimani/attacked Iran because he/they fought us in Iraq, he puts a spotlight on the missing justification for why we went there or why we are still there in the first place.

    Its the same thing for the criticisms of Iran and our questionable relationship with Saudi Arabia. If its a problem with Iran why is it okay with Saudi Arabia?
    No one is doing a good job explaining what the hell we’re up to in the Middle East. They don’t even try.
    I’m certainly not the only one who thinks our foreign policy has been for sale for awhile.
    We don’t look like the good guys here. Who could possibly want to be involved in this?

    Reigniting a war that everyone believes was a terrible idea from the safety of the white house isn’t going to make anyone change their opinion about what the United states has done to be parked in Iraq and all around Iran. It wont make us respect Trump. There is nothing to respect over what he did. There is nothing to respect over what he’s threatening.

    He’s consistently impulsive, thin skinned and desperate for respect and like unfortunately a lot of men out there, believes being the most cruel is how its done – and for him especially when he encounters people that dislike him and aren’t making him any money.
    He’s also a known liar who surrounds himself with the same.
    There was no imminent threat that was going to be avoided by what Trump authorized.

    I’d believe his tweets. He is all about rapid escalation. Trump and his gop enablers are a danger to the world.
    They are the shame of the nation and responsible for the disaster they’re creating.

  2. Candace on

    Trump’s foreign policy opinions and decisions are based the agenda of who pays him and or flatters him, but also whether he believes what they want him to do will give him appearance and power advantages over those he’s decided are his enemies.

    Trump is 24/7 determined to do anything to escape the trouble and humiliation coming from being impeached or losing an election and then what awaits him afterwards. And he’s surrounded by people who are aware of this willing to kiss his behind in order to get him to do what they want.
    These “protective advisers” have conflicting sub agendas but the main force behind those who are keeping him in power is that they’re trying to overthrow the United States government. Saudi Arabia, Israel, Russia the white nationalist Gop – no one believes a war in Iran is going to help anybody in the United States but that’s the point isn’t it.
    As soon as these people believe Trump isn’t useful to them anymore they’ll toss him aside as abruptly as Trump does with people that work for him. But they are getting a lot of mileage out of having the President of the United States being thought of as the most hated and foolish person on the planet so knows when that will happen.
    Trump wants the war with Iran. just because people believe he’s too dumb to comprehend the greater consequences of what he’s done it doesn’t mean there should be a doubt behind his intention (or the people he’s surrounded by) for assassinating Soleimani to give him the benefit of.


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