The Impeachment Trial of Donald John Trump continues today. It is impossible to know exactly what will occur over the next 30 hours or so, but a betting person would place money on the increasing likelihood that the Senate will vote “no” on calling witnesses or documents during the trial and then proceed to acquit Mr. Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
And we will be the worse for it.
Politics aside, meaning whether or not you felt that Mr. Trump should be removed from office, all of us should be appalled that the Senate will conclude the trial without actually holding a trial as we all know it should be conducted. Indeed, in the latest Quinnipiac Poll — a source respected by all mainstream politicians — 75% of respondents stated that there should be witnesses questioned and documents reviewed during the Impeachment Trial. Only 20% said that they were not necessary. Those in favor included a majority of Republicans as well as overwhelming numbers of Democrats and Independents. The reasons for wanting them may vary — for proving either an acquittal or a conviction — but the fact remains that they are wanted. So much for elected officials listening to their constituents.
More shocking, more incredible, more dangerous than all of the preposterous arguments being put forward by the Trump cultists, is the one proffered by Professor Alan Dershowitz, one of the president’s defense lawyers. His twisted logic essentially says that a president can do anything that he wants. Period. He is totally in line with Mr. Trump’s declaration, “Then, I have an Article II, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president.”
Specifically, Professor Dershowitz argued that if a president is running for re-election and believes that being re-elected is in the public interest, then that person can do whatever is necessary to get re-elected. After a long explanation, he summarized by saying, “If a president does something he believes will help him get elected is in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.”
Think about the ramifications of saying that a president can do anything to get elected and the Congress can do nothing about it. The imagination runs wild.
So for those keeping score at home, here is where we are:
- The president believes that he does not have to submit to oversight from the Congress and therefore refuses to turn over any documents or witnesses to help Congress do its Constitutionally mandated job.
- The entire membership of one political party in Congress supports that assertion and actively works to keep witnesses and documents from their oversight.
- The defense team of the president confirms that the president does not have to submit to Congressional oversight.
- The defense team then goes one step further by saying that if a president believes that his actions are in the “national interest” then he can do anything that he wants to do.
- The president believes, and now has had it affirmed, that he is the state. Whatever is good for him is good for the country.
- The Senate votes to affirm all of the above.
Put all the pieces together and we no longer have an accountable president. We have the equivalent of a divine king. (There are many evangelicals that believe that it is God’s will that Mr. Trump was elected.) Our very own Louis XIV! (Famous quote one: “It is legal because I wish it.” Famous quote two: “Has God forgotten all I have done for Him?”) I am not hyperventilating, or over-stating the case when I use that phrase because the arguments are in the same vein as those used for the divine right of kings. To continue in this direction puts the great American experiment on life support.
Rather than “king” maybe we should worry that we will soon have an “emperor.” Perhaps the best historical analogy is the end of the Roman Republic. After long and bitter political infighting, the Senate abdicated its responsibilities to an Emperor.
Is there any doubt that Mr. Trump, given his track record to date and proven propensity to do only what he thinks personally benefits him, will stop at nothing to win the next election? Then what?
The possible consequences are limited only by one’s own imagination. Consider this scenario as an example. Mr. Trump already believes that he lost the 2016 popular vote because three million people voted illegally. He formed a commission to “prove” it. (The commission disbanded without finding any evidence of such a thing.) Suppose the polls show that he will lose again in 2020 and decides that all of those illegal voters were in California and that they were all illegal immigrants (another theory he has espoused with no proof what-so-ever)? Suppose he then declares that it is in the national interest to prevent that from happening and shuts down polling places in California or, after the results are in, declares that it is in the national interest to nullify all votes in California? What mechanism exists to prevent that? Public outrage? A dysfunctional Congress? The press?
It is increasingly clear that our Founding Fathers assumed that at least a modicum of decency and fair play would exist in either the presidency or in the Congress in order to make the checks and balances actually work. We now clearly can see that an individual who knows no boundaries and bursts through any guardrails that may have existed, coupled to the lack of any will to stop him, means that anything goes.
Here’s the thing to remember. Whatever shenanigans happen in the next few days, whoever argues that the Trump cultists are on the wrong side of history, or that they are setting a terrible precedent for future presidents or even that our democracy may be in jeopardy, there is only one answer.
Repeat after me.
THEY. DON’T. CARE.
All that matters now is protecting Mr. Trump who in turn promises to protect them (Ha!) which allows them to retain power.
NOTHING. ELSE. MATTERS.
Is it too much to say that we now have a king rather than a president? Perhaps. Only the events over the next few months will let us know for sure. I for one am extremely nervous about what Mr. Trump thinks he can do now that he feels no consequences for his election dallying with Russia and his extortion attempts on Ukraine.
Everything seems to be fair game to him and he sees no problem with his immoral behavior. Our only recourse is to be vigilant, continue to cry “foul” while holding our Senators and Representatives accountable and turning out in record numbers in November to vote these people into obscurity.
“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
—- Alice in Alice in Wonderland
To believe the ongoing defense arguments in the Impeachment Trial of Donald John Trump, it would help to be in Alice’s shoes. Although, with the information coming out over the weekend, I’m not sure that even that would help.
Two revelations in particular make the president’s defense increasingly difficult to believe. One is the roughly 80 minute long video and audio tape released by Mr. Lev Parnas — the “associate” of Mr. Rudy Giuliani in the Ukrainian shakedown scheme — where he discusses the firing of the then U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. The second, and most important, is the report detailing the interactions between the president and his National Security Adviser John Bolton concerning the shakedown of Ukraine.
In the audio tape, Mr. Parnas and Mr. Trump discuss Ambassador Yovanovitch and the president is told that she is “bad-mouthing” him. The response?
“Get rid of her! Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. Okay? Do it!”
In addition to sounding like a bad mob movie, this is troubling in at least two ways. While the president’s defense is true, that he can hire and fire whomever he wants as an Ambassador, it wasn’t what happened as much as how it happened.
Mr. Trump claims he doesn’t know Mr. Parnas. This is just another one of his over 16,200 documented lies to date in office. Listening to the tape, he clearly does know him. The context is a general discussion about Ukraine and U.S. support to that fledgling democracy locked in a hot war with Russia. Note that he doesn’t say “we need to look into that,” or tell an aide that he needs more information or talk to Secretary of State Pompeo about what to do. Instead, on the spot, he commands her immediate removal.
This happens for one of two reasons. It could be that there already had been long discussions about how the Ambassador refused to “play ball” in the scheme and in fact was acting to end corruption — by opposing the actions of Giuliani and Associates.
The other reflects the president’s decision making style. Assume he really did not know Mr. Parnas. Then that means anyone could walk into the president’s inner circle (the recording was made during an intimate sit down dinner of about ten people), say any old outrageous thing and the president would bring the most powerful office in the land to bear on the spur of the moment and act on it without study, knowledge, strategy or process. That may be the scarier of the two prospects.
But now, as Alice would say, the situation is getting “curiouser and curousier.”
Mr. Bolton apparently is ready and willing to testify to what is in the manuscript of his upcoming book. Specifically, that in mid-August, as all government agencies were pushing for the release of about $400 million in desperately needed assistance to Ukraine, the president told him that he would not do so until the Ukrainians provided information on the Bidens and on Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election. These two conspiracy theories have been thoroughly and repeatedly debunked by his own administration’s officials.
The manuscript puts the lie to everything that the president, his lawyers and his cult followers in Congress have claimed since the whole mess became public.
The manuscript also reportedly shows the full depth and breadth of the conspiracy to extort Ukraine by illuminating the involvement of the Secretary of State, Attorney General and the Acting Chief of Staff. The whole place seems to be rotting from within.
Here is the kicker. The draft book was given to the White House staff on 30 December 2019. That means that the president, his defense attorneys and others in the administration knew about the testimony Mr. Bolton was ready to give and therefore, not only did they continue to knowingly lie when they said no one could testify to the president’s direct involvement, they knew it when the Senate voted not to have any witnesses or documents produced at the trial.
Let that sink in.
I would postulate that as a minimum, Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (TR-Ky) knew it too when he set the rules for the trial. Clearly, they were ready to jam through a vote to preclude witnesses knowing that there was at least one person that could provide exceedingly damaging testimony about the president’s real intentions.
A total sham and whitewash of a trial executed with malice of forethought.
My theory is that they knew the facts would come out eventually, but they did not care. The argument would be that the president was already acquitted and so, while “troubling”, too bad, so sad, we can’t do anything about it now. The House should have done their job (another canard among many), but they didn’t and so now we just have to live with it. Oh well. On to the election!
Only they got caught.
On Saturday I was convinced that the trial would end without any additional evidence or witnesses. They almost got away with it, but now I think that as many as eight or nine Republican Senators will vote for witnesses. What form that takes, and how many witnesses get called, I have no idea, but I would speculate that it is about a 60-40 chance that at least Mr. Bolton testifies. It is also possible, of course, that Mr. McConnell (aka Midnight Mitch, aka Moscow Mitch) might pull a legislative rabbit out of his hat to protect Mr. Trump, but there also may be enough pressure from his own caucus that he relents.
Much attention focused on four Republican Senators and how they might vote. In my view, and the view of several political analysts, there were never going to be four Senators joining the Democrats to vote for witnesses. There needed to be safety in numbers of at least six or seven in order that no one of them is accused of having “caved” to the Democrats and been the deciding vote. Otherwise, the Red Queen would have tweeted “Off with their heads!”
It is early in the proceedings, even if Mr. Trump and his accomplice in the Senate Mr. McConnell hoped to have it wrapped up by the end of this week. But as we have seen so often in these proceedings, even twenty-four hours is an eternity in the current political environment. Who knows what will happen?
I turn to Alice for one more parting piece of advice to the public and to those in Congress that may still care about holding this administration accountable.
“It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to go someplace else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”
The proceedings in the Senate concerning the Impeachment of Donald John Trump got underway this afternoon. Right from the start the fix is in. We can no longer call it a trial. I don’t know what else to call it other than a whitewash.
Moments ago the Republicans voted unanimously not to have any witnesses or documents produced as evidence. How one could call this a trial, when they refuse to look at any evidence or listen to any witnesses, is beyond me.
Technically, they voted to table a motion to an amendment to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (TR-Ky) (aka “midnight Mitch”) rules for this hearing. In theory, they could call for evidence, — get this — at the end of the whatever we call this. The ramifications are many, including solidifying Mr. Trump’s claims that he can do anything he wants under Article II of the Constitution. Oversight is DOA.
I am dumbfounded that a trial can proceed without any evidence or witnesses.
Recent polls show that 71% of Americans think that witnesses and evidence should be presented at this Impeachment Trial. But now we aren’t going to have a trial. We are going to have a whitewash of the president’s actions.
It seems that if the Republicans really wanted to exonerate the president, they would want to produce witnesses and evidence that exonerates him. Without any evidence what-so-ever no one should claim that he was exonerated. Having listened to all of the evidence, they may have decided to acquit him, but at least all the information would be out there.
Many pundits, historians and former politicians have often said that the Republicans in Congress are “on the wrong side of history” or “will have to look themselves in the mirror” and that they have lost all integrity. Clearly, they do not care. All that matters now, is that they retain power at all costs. All costs. All Republicans in Congress are all in on Trump. They own everything that happens and all of his actions from here on in.
One can only conclude that the Republicans know in their hearts that the charges are true and that the president did all that he is accused of doing, but that keeping power is more important so the facts must not come out. They are clearly afraid that if all of the evidence came out, they would be in political hot water if they acquitted him anyway.
Our democracy is becoming a sham.
God Bless America!
In the true spirit of non-violent demonstrations espoused by Dr. Martin Luther King, this Monday, the holiday in his name, will see what is expected to be a massive, and potentially violent demonstration in Richmond Virginia over gun rights. The chosen day is not a coincidence.
Besides legitimate demonstrators in support of preserving what they consider their rights under the Second Amendment, far right, white nationalist militias and racist groups plan to attend. Among those are groups that call for race wars and intend to use violence at demonstrations such as these to foment those wars.
For those of us not in the know, apparently the term of art is “boogaloo.” Among certain groups this has come to mean a civil war. Some take it further and use it in the context of a race civil war. Increasingly, it is being adopted by gun rights activists, especially by those that believe the government will come to take their guns.
The FBI expressed a “fair sense of worry” over the demonstration and last week arrested members of “The Base” which they described as a “racially motivated violent extremist group.” Nothing says Martin Luther King Day like racist violence.
At issue is the newly elected Virginia legislature and their intent to pass three gun safety laws. The three provide for universal background checks for the purchase of any gun, a limit on purchases to one a month, and the ability for local jurisdictions to temporarily ban guns at public events. There are others under consideration, but they probably will not make it out of committee before the session ends.
Based on law enforcement advice and intelligence, including indications some groups were calling for a boogaloo on Monday, Governor Ralph Northam temporarily banned weapons from the capital grounds until after the demonstration. This in itself was a cause for demonstrations and law suits. The ban was upheld by the Virginia Supreme Court. The city is bracing for a very bad, no good day. Authorities are concerned it could be worse than the demonstrations in Charlottesville a few years ago. Hopefully, with precautions in place, cooler heads will prevail.
In his own low key way, the President of the United States poured fuel on the fire with a tweet yesterday. Instead of cooling tensions, he said,
“Your 2nd Amendment is under very serious attack in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia. That’s what happens when you vote for Democrats, they will take your guns away. Republicans will win in 2020, Thank you Dems!”
That tweet will be interpreted as a green light for many of these hateful groups. I hope that I am wrong.
It occurred to me as I watched the Impeachment Trial of Donald John Trump officially begin last Thursday, that like several banks and corporations during the Great Recession of the 2000’s, the amount of lying, conniving, lawbreaking, personal greed and damage to the dignity of the Office of the President of the United States is so much, that it becomes too big for him to fail. Or in this case, to be convicted. Republicans in the House and Senate, along with key Cabinet positions in his Administration, have bought into the Trump Cult to such a degree that they cannot afford for him to fail lest they expose their own weaknesses, misconduct, phoniness, fraudulent actions and other misdeeds.
As things now stand, the trial that begins in earnest next Tuesday will be a sham. The new developments coming out almost daily continue to show the depth and breadth of Mr. Trump’s efforts to rig the 2020 election. Those efforts are matched by the depth and breadth of involvement by members of his Administration and his supporters in Congress.
You want a good example? How about the fact the we are learning from written documents, including phone calls and text messages, that Representative Devin Nunes (R-CA) and his chief aide, Mr. Derek Harvey were in close contact with Mr. Lev Parnas, the chief “associate” (read thug) working with Mr. Rudy Giuliani. These are the guys on the ground involved in the Ukraine caper trying to find manufactured dirt on Mr. Trump’s probable election opponent Mr. Joe Biden. Mr. Nunes and Mr. Harvey were aiding and abetting the operation. This is the same Devin Nunes that is the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee that investigated Mr. Trump’s activities. He is one of those guys who shouted (literally) throughout the hearings that it was all made up, a hoax and a sham. Even as he was in on it. And even as he was supposed to help supervise the proceedings.
It is sometimes difficult to keep track of all the names and institutions that are normally outside the course of daily events. Sometimes I think that, like at the ball park, “you can’t tell the players without a score card!” But it is important to see what is going on in plain sight as well as behind closed doors.
One of those institutions is the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) (although Mr. Trump tweets it as GOA). This is the non-partisan group tasked by law to monitor government activities and to report its findings to Congress. The GAO determined last week that the president’s withholding of appropriated funds for Ukraine broke the law. Specifically, it broke the 1974 Impoundment Control Act (ICA) which was enacted in response to President Richard Nixon’s efforts to withhold appropriated funds to distract from his own Impeachment proceedings. Several emails among government officials had already surfaced that in the months that the funds were withheld, conscientious government officials cited the law as they sought to determine why the funds were not sent. It is not an obscure or non-relevant provision as some in the administration would like you to believe.
In the past week, Mr. Lev Parnas has been dropping some real bomb shells. While his testimony should not be taken as the absolute truth on its own merits, it does provide insight into the thinking going on and provides a road map for further investigation. While many impugn his character, keep in mind that criminals commit crimes and they often turn on their fellow criminals for purposes of their own. It does not mean that they aren’t factual. But don’t take him at his word. Look at the documents that he and his lawyers continue to turn over to Congress. People lie. Documents tend to lead to the truth.
In this busy week, revelations surfaced that the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch (the ambassador Mr. Giuliani wanted fired for interfering with his extortion scheme) may have been under physical surveillance by Americans and in danger from Americans. Not a peep from the Secretary of State defending his career Foreign Service Officers until cornered at a press conference yesterday. He announced no action to conduct an investigation. Days earlier, Ukraine began an investigation. On their own. As of today, Ukrainian officials asked the U.S. FBI to help them, but still no investigation initiated by any U.S. agency to protect our diplomats. Is it because this administration does not care about U.S. citizens and diplomats overseas or is it because they do not want to know the answer?
More news this week as Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Parnas and the third thug in the ring, Mr. Igor Furman were reportedly being paid by a Russian oligarch (under indictment in the US) with close ties to Vladimir Putin. (Why is it that all of Mr. Trump’s roads lead to Putin?)
As the evidence mounts, it is clear that this extortion scheme went far deeper than “just” a phone call between two presidents. To date, no Republican has seriously contested any of the evidence produced around the Impeachment. They have attacked witnesses, sources of information, process and other things that have nothing to do with the facts. The facts are not in dispute. For that matter, Mr. Trump himself admits to them.
As part of their scheme to white wash the Impeachment Trial, the Senate Republicans are setting up false equivalencies. This is especially true with respect to witnesses and additional evidence not available when the House did its investigation. The president continues to block key information and to prevent witnesses from testifying (in my view this just reinforces that they have no exculpatory evidence). The Republicans will claim that since they did not get, say, Mr. Hunter Biden to testify, then not having Mr. John Bolton testify means that it is “even” — no one got what they wanted, and thus that it is fair. Baloney. Hunter Biden has no material testimony as to what Mr. Trump did. Mr. Bolton has significant first hand knowledge. There are a multitude of similar arguments being put forward to prevent the truth from coming out. This sets up their ultimate defense.
The Republican defense argument is likely to be “so what?” “Yes, he did it. What’s it to ya?” Reasonable people may dispute whether the punishment, removal from office, fits the crime, extorting a foreign power to get them to interfere in a US election, but the facts remain. Indeed, the vast scope of the whole scheme is becoming clearer and clearer. It was a classic mob action. It also indicates a pattern of behavior by the president. It is clear that he will continue to act this way. It is his nature and, we now know, the way he operates in every aspect of his life, past and present. It is time to hold him accountable. His behavior is not going to get better, and without accountability it can get a lot worse.
It seems to me that Mr. Trump now has sufficient accomplices in his administration, and in the Congress, that he feels he can get away with anything. They do not think that anything is off limits to them in the pursuit of their self-interests and their own power, including criminal activity. Nothing. And that is not hyperbole as we continue to see for ourselves.
I have also come to understand that we will never know the real truth behind, or the extent of the corruption. The system is not geared for fraud and criminal activity on such a scale, especially when it is coordinated by the President of the United States. And most especially when the Attorney General of the United States does everything in or out of his power to protect the actions of the president. It’s just “too big.” Sadly, this includes whatever it is Vladimir Putin has on him. (My view is that has to do with money laundering and other illegal financial ties.)
As Timothy Egan put it more eloquently than I in a New York Times essay, evil attracts evil. In the absence of good people acting, evil triumphs. There is evil in the White House and it is spreading throughout our government.
While you were enjoying the holidays with friends and family, you may have missed that the United States conducted a drone strike killing five people including Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. The strike took place at the Baghdad Airport as the general was reportedly on his way to a meeting with Iraqi officials. It was done without the knowledge of the Iraqis.
Killing General Soleimani, and the U.S. and world reaction in the aftermath, shows a real Policy-Strategy mismatch in the stated goals of the Trump Administration.
Mr. Donald J. Trump campaigned on a policy, and continues to reiterate it on the 2020 campaign trail, of pulling our troops out of the Middle East and to not pursue what he calls “endless wars.” His administration’s stated policy for the future is to focus on realigning our military forces and deployments to get away from the War on Terror and to instead focus on near competitors such as China and Russia. This action in Iraq furthers none of these goals.
Killing General Soleimani was in itself not a bad thing. On one important level, the world is much better off without him. He was, in the vernacular, a “bad guy.” No tears are shed in this space for his demise. The question is whether it was wise or not. The problem is that I suspect the Trump Administration had no long-term plan. No next steps. No branches and sequels that anticipated the understanding of, or planning for, probable Iranian retaliation. When taking such an action, proper planning requires thinking through the consequences and preparing for the inevitable reaction. I don’t see that that was done. An old military saying is that no plan survives contact with the enemy. They get a vote on what happens next. It is imperative that before taking such a drastic action that planners think through the probable consequences and prepare for them.
They should know that the Iranians will retaliate. Period. They must in order to keep their position as a power broker in the region. Most likely they will do so in an asymmetrical way. Cyber attacks. Terrorist attacks. Surrogates attacking US interests in third countries. Interfering with shipping in the Persian Gulf through rocket or mine attacks. Probably in a way that allows for plausible deniability that makes it more difficult for the U.S. to respond. The Iranians know that they cannot go toe to toe with the US military, but they also know that they can do a lot of damage — especially psychologically and economically. And Americans are likely to die.
There is a reason that over the last thirty years we attacked Iraq rather than Iran. Iran has always been a bad actor — by far much worse than Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Iran is the main source of terrorism in the Middle East and has been since their revolution in the late 1970’s as they try to export that revolution. Not unlike the Soviet Union in their heyday. We attacked Iraq twice because they were bad actors, but more importantly, it was doable. Iran is a completely different ball game. Despite stereotypes, Iran is a modern, technologically savvy nation with a large and capable military. Not in the US league, but good, and probably the best of those in the region.
When analyzing the attack, the evidence given by the Administration for carrying out the killing does not make sense. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo argues that it was in response to intelligence that indicated an “imminent threat” to U.S. forces. This is important if one is considering the legal reasons for the killing. The President continually states that it is retribution for past actions by Iran, directed by General Soleimani. Not a legal reason for the undertaking under either U.S. or international law.
I don’t want to get hung up on the legality of the attack as in some ways, it is a distraction. It is important in another way if we want international support for our actions. The attack could be easily considered an assassination. Killing him was roughly equivalent to taking out our Director of the CIA or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. General Soleimani was an official of the sovereign nation of Iran. Additionally, the killing took place on the sovereign territory of Iraq, without their knowledge. In international law, and in practical support, this has consequences. It is definitely not the same as taking out Osama bin Laden or any other terrorist leader. He was an official with diplomatic standing in a sovereign government conducting official business in another sovereign nation. More importantly to the follow-on actions by Iran, the general was in all practicality the number two official in Iran and a national and regional hero.
Despite Mr. Trump’s pronouncements, we are considerably less safe in the Middle East now than before his death. Thousands of U.S. forces are being deployed to protect US bases, embassies, and civilians throughout the region. The forces already deployed to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria have ceased all operations against the terrorists in order to focus on self-protection, known in military parlance as force protection. NATO forces in the region stopped training Iraqi forces and have departed or hunkered down. The State Department warned all US citizens to depart Iraq. The Iraqi parliament voted to demand the departure of all US military personnel. The US military in Iraq informed their counterparts that they are “re-positioning troops” in Iraq In preparation for withdrawing all or part of the force.
Today, the Iranians officially declared they will no longer adhere to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) which eliminated the near-term pursuit of their nuclear weapons program. Expect them to start building nuclear weapons.
The list goes on. We are definitely not safer. It doesn’t help when the world knows and documents that Trump has told over 15,000 lies since taking office. The support for this action from allies and friends is either non-existent or extremely muted. His reasons for attacking now lack credibility on the world stage. There have been imminent threats in that region for decades. It is a dangerous place. To date, the administration offers no evidence of any new or significant change to the situation.
Additionally, while General Soleimani was charismatic, there are other qualified generals to take his place. He personally did not carry out attacks. The troops and covert assets under Iranian control do. They still exist and are in place. Killing him will not tactically or operationally stop any attacks.
To me, concerns of an all out war are premature. But Trump’s decision was immature. It was a feel good, “aren’t I tough” move rather than a thought out strategic decision. Although I do not think that all out war is imminent, there is clearly a great opportunity for a miscalculation on each side which could lead to a larger conflict. There will be a series of tit-for-tat measures taken by both sides. If the military responses are not proportional and relevant, then the chance for escalation is high. Unfortunately, since Mr. Trump has tripled down on threats to purposefully and deliberately destroy Iranian cultural sites (a war crime under the Geneva Convention) the indications are not ones of restraint by the president. As Mr. Trump threatens to destroy 52 targets (one for each American hostage in 1979) the Iranians have indicated that they could hit 290 targets (one for each passenger and crew killed by the 1988 shootdown of an Iranian civilian Airbus by the USS Vincennes).
There is another scenario, however. The Iranians under General Soleimani, with the concurrence of the Ayatollah, was conducting an escalating campaign against American interests to test the limits of what they could get away with. Since there was no US response, to numerous provocations (shooting down a U.S. drone, mine attacks on tankers, a missile attack on Saudi oil fields, etc.) they were slowly ratcheting up their activities. They thought that Mr. Trump was afraid of conflict in the Gulf region. They were trying to get the president to accelerate his promise to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq by making it painful to stay. They were trying to do so without crossing the line into provoking an all out American response. Since their economy is in dire straits, they desperately want to have sanctions lifted. This attack on the second most important man in Iran may cause them to recalibrate their thinking, even to the point of starting back channel negotiations with the U.S. The danger is, that even if such negotiations come to pass, it will literally go up in smoke if the US or Iran miscalculates on its military response.
It is well known in international relations that one cannot deter an opponent if they don’t know what it is they are supposed to be deterred from doing. With the, at best, uneven, at worst, ignorant, Trump foreign policy, it is difficult for friends, enemies and allies to know what is expected of them. Surprises and unpredictability are assets in actual combat. They are a detriment in trying to implement a strategy to fulfill any policy, especially in the Middle East.
We are in dangerous times. All out war is not inevitable. However, current events are disconcerting given the context that there seems to be no clear strategy to implement our policy, should it be a possible to discern a clear U.S, policy in the region in the first place.
Careening from tweet to tweet does not help us with our allies, our friends or deter our enemies. Mr. Trump and his advisers need to step back, but not step down, and think through exactly what they are trying to achieve. They need to think five or six steps ahead and not just react to day to day developments.
I know that there are still conscientious and professional people in the intelligence community, the State Department and the Department of Defense. The question is whether decision makers will understand what they are being told and will they listen?