The first casualty of war, the saying goes, is truth. It’s also an early casualty of President Trump’s order last week to kill Gen. Qassem Soleimani, a top Iranian military figure, via drone strike at the Baghdad airport.
On Friday, Trump stepped comfortably in front of a microphone to state, “We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war.”
But there aren’t enough copies of George Orwell’s “1984” in every library in the U.S. to paper over the absurdity of his claim. Even as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated on Friday that “Americans in the region are much safer,” the State Department was urging American citizens to “depart Iraq immediately” because of the dramatic escalation of tensions.
Trump claimed that his action was justified because Soleimani was preparing specific, imminent actions against U.S. interests. But so far, no one in Trump’s administration has offered supportive evidence of those imminent attacks.
On Sunday, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, vowed to exact revenge — as anyone could have expected. Trump then threatened to meet Iranian retaliation with further escalation, promising military strikes on 52 Iranian targets, including cultural sites (actions that would almost certainly be considered war crimes).
Iraq’s reaction to the attack — which it saw as a violation of its sovereignty — was to vote on Sunday to expel all American troops from the country. This decision invited more threats from Trump.
None of Trump’s volatile reactions take us further from the possibility of war.
Hawks in various presidential administrations keep thinking they can tame Iran, but after years of crippling economic sanctions and threats, they’ve never come close to accomplishing that goal. The only dent ever placed in Iran’s behavior was through the 2015 eight-nation nuclear deal, negotiated by the Obama administration, which Trump threw out the window.
None of us will mourn the loss of Soleimani, who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans. He was a bad man.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was also a bad man. But our invasion of Iraq, with inadequate planning and execution, led to unforeseen and deadly consequences for America, the repercussions of which we still feel today. We’ve paid dearly for our misadventures in Afghanistan and Iraq with American blood and treasure.
As Trump is facing increasing domestic problems, including his impeachment trial and a tough re-election campaign, it’s inevitable that the timing of his action will be questioned — especially in light of his past assertions that President Obama would likely start a war with Iran to draw attention away from his domestic problems. Is that how he thinks things are done?
We all have a responsibility to question every single aspect of what’s happening now. We need to ask: How does any of this ease tensions in the Middle East? How does any of it make America safer?
Trump and his administration owe us answers — not more volatility. How we wish the supine Republicans in Congress, with their experience and insight, would step forward to moderate the situation, lest we find ourselves repeating the costly and deadly mistakes of the previous two decades.