A destructive tendency of presidents, both Democrat and Republican, has been threat-inflation. They purposely exaggerate threats to the security of Americans for political gain.
Two of the most egregious examples spawned two of the country’s worst wars. One was Lyndon Johnson’s excessive claims about attacks on U.S. Navy destroyers by the North Vietnamese in 1964. It led to Congress’ passing of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, authorizing the president to take all necessary military action against North Vietnam. The Vietnam quagmire was a consequence.
The second was the bogus claim by the George W. Bush administration of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Donald Trump became a harsh critic of that deception and war, saying in a 2008 interview that it would have been “a wonderful thing” to impeach Mr. Bush for it.
But today, with his claims of major imminent threats against the U.S. from Iran to justify the killing of General Qassim Soleimani, he is raising questions about having engaged in threat-inflation himself.
In news reports, unidentified administration officials say the claim is based on thin intelligence. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo again declined at a news conference on Tuesday to provide details of an imminent threat. Democrats want hard proof – and given the WMD fiasco, in which administration officials railroaded Congress and media, including The New York Times – they are correct to demand it.
Considering Mr. Trump’s record as a serial truth-defier, skepticism is warranted. Vice-President Mike Pence has already been caught making a false claim tying Gen. Soleimani to 9/11.
Mr. Trump was presented with several options for responding to the Iranian targeting of U.S. military and diplomats. His choice of the extreme option reportedly shocked some of his senior officials.
The upshot is likely an extended military conflict or, in the words of Fox news host Tucker Carlson, “another quagmire from which there is no obvious exit.”
Democrats voted to impeach Mr. Trump because they say that, in trying to have Ukraine investigate political rival Joe Biden, he acted not in the interest of national security but of his own political concerns.
Democratic nomination candidate Elizabeth Warren has raised the prospect that Mr. Trump is doing the same thing on Iran, especially given the fact he faces not only re-election but an impeachment trial and is therefore under intense pressure to change the narrative.
The political-motivation thesis, initially scoffed at by the hard right, gained credibility with the appearance of a 2011 video of Mr. Trump accusing Barack Obama of wanting to start a war with lran, because doing so would help him win him the election.
And on Monday, Mr. Trump himself made the point that the Iran crisis means the country now has far more important business to deal with than impeachment. “To be spending time on this political Hoax at this moment in our history, when I am so busy, is sad!” he tweeted.
All parties agree with him that Gen. Soleimani deserved elimination, but the fear is that his death will unleash more bloodshed than it warded off. Lisa Monaco, Mr. Obama’s homeland security adviser, says Mr. Obama didn’t take out Gen. Soleimani because of the backlash it would have engendered.
Although Mr. Trump won’t say it now, his past actions suggest his administration wants regime change in Iran. But the attack so far seems to have had somewhat of a unifying effect, rallying Iranians behind its current leadership.
Iran now says it will no longer abide by a 2015 nuclear agreement to suspend uranium production, an agreement Mr. Trump abrogated. The attack has led to demands from Baghdad that the U.S. withdraw its military from Iraq, something Iran would surely welcome.
Mr. Trump has been remarkable throughout his life in extricating himself from crises, from bankruptcy to the Access Hollywood recording to accusations of Russian collusion. He may be able to do it again with respect to Iran – and reap political benefit, while he’s at it.
The more likely scenario, former Obama officials Ms. Monaco and Ben Rhodes believe, is that he has triggered a cycle of conflict-escalation with Iran and others in the region that cannot be halted.
Far from going to war with Iran, as Mr. Trump conjectured, Mr. Obama sought the opposite through his nuclear deal and other measures. He didn’t need to resort to threat-inflation and bang the war drums like Mr. Johnson and Mr. Bush and, as it appears, Mr. Trump, to boost his standing.