Iran is a “bad actor”, I am completely up-front about. The arch-villain Solemani, whom Trump had assassinated a few days ago, was indeed a rotten apple. This is coming from a Jewish-American who has paid a fair amount of attention to politics, geopolitics, and war in the last 25 years. I don’t exactly consider myself a “dove”, but I certainly am skeptical of Republicans hatching Middle East operations (to be read in the cadence of “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts“). This blog is about the utter unwisdom of poking a bear in the eye for what amounts to no clear, justifiable reason. We have seen this movie before and it didn’t turn out well.
Trump specializes in ‘realpolitik‘: acting immorally to fulfill what he claims is best for the country, but is meant to advance his idiosyncratic interests. This is not new.
I was around and wide-awake during the George W. Bush Iraq War/Middle East debacle. Things didn’t turn out that well. Even today, someone like Joe Biden gets tarred and feathered by having not seen through the subterfuge and obfuscation that marked the Bush/Cheney/Wolfowitz/Rumsfeld cabal fifteen or eighteen yeas ago. Nowadays, voting for the Iraq war is tantamount to foolishness, gulliability, and pro-establishment necrosis, if you will.
On the one hand is strategic wisdom: invading Iraq failed that test.
On the other is morality: lying about and instituting regime change in Iraq and torture and all that bullshit failed that test.
I am astonished how Mike Pompeo and Mike Pence bear striking resemblances to Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. More than a decade after Iraq blew up in our faces and, and Powell’s premonition came true: The Pottery Barn analogy: “You break it, you buy it” became infamous, it is very clear to me that it is unwisdom to think that doing the same exact types of things with Iran that we did with Iraq will work out swimmingly.
Pompeo the Pompous represents perfectly the cognitive biases and gross logic of a war hawk. The White House’s most dangerous extreme Rightist (well, maybe next to the Machiavellian white supremacist, Steve Bannon and Steven Miller) only left because he couldn’t take the utter chicanery Trump was engaging in with extorting and attempting to bribe the President in Ukraine in exchange for a personal favor (link).
The kind of unscrupulous and unpatriotic behavior exemplified by Trump, Pompeo, Pence, Miller, and so on are positively Roman – and not in the positive sense of the word. I’m talking about intrigue, self-aggrandizement, skullduggery, chicanery, savagery, and grossly distorted morality. More than once I have seen a striking resemblance between Trump and Caesar (as well as Hitler). Rome didn’t turn out that well, my friend.
One can’t take ill-conceived, hawkish, foolish, and vengeful acts, such as killing Solemani, and justify it as something like “Well, now the world is safer with that guy dead” or “To allow him to live would be coddling a nasty regime led by Islamic extremists.” Indeed, Iran was and is a nettlesome country brought about by religious fanatacism, Western imperialism, realpolitik run amok, and the gross manifestations of a world run by ethical infants. Indeed, General Omar Bradley warned, “The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. also showed us a half-century ago a lesson we have yet to learn: “Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.”
...guided missiles and misguided men…
We are certainly being guided by one helluva misguided man. He is clearly a narcissist, maybe a sociopath. Those aren’t just jingoistic terms, I really think Trump qualifies for one or more personality disorders. Basically, the worst person you can imagine leading you. I get that some folks were wary of Clinton — for informed and for misinformed reasons — but we put the clown in charge of the circus. Every day we pay a price. We will be paying this mistake off for years. We may yet be forced to pay dearly. Engaging Iran in an all-out conflict (while North Korea, Russia, and China are not in check) could be an error that rivals the mistake Bush and Congress made getting us involved in a hot war in the Middle East in 2002. Remember Colin Powell’s warning? You break it, you buy it.
I think it’s appropriate to be skeptical of government — when it’s functioning fairly well. When it’s functioning like a quasi-authoritarian hellscape, one not only should be skeptical, one can justify being opposed and even vehemently against conformity. Read Orwell’s 1984 if you doubt this.
“President Trump has no credibility. His political rise was built on a lie (about Barack Obama’s birthplace). He has told thousands of untruths since becoming president. He appears to be lying again — about why he ordered the assassination of Qassim Suleimani, Iran’s most significant military leader,” writer David Leonhardt points out. “This is where having credibility — and having a president who didn’t lie about everything — would be really, really helpful,” notes Samantha Power. Couple this will all the machinations and skullduggery we have recently seen from Devin Nunes, that kook from Ohio (last name Ryan, I think), and especially (predictably) that total shyster Mitch McConnell, and you have yourself a very clear case for a government run totally amok. We are talking about a never-before-seen level of corruption and irresponsibility. I can’t think of how else to describe both escalating the Iran situation into a full-fledged conflict and fixing the impeachment trial in the Senate than to point to the wanton stupidity and oligarchy these two astonishing errors represent. Washington and Franklin must be turning over in their graves.
In regard to unwisdom and immorality, Republicans tend to believe and argue ten overarching themes in this and prior dilemmas. I was listening to Congressman Will Hurd on Morning Joe this morning, and his similarity to Colin Powell taking the mic and burnishing the Bush Administration re: intituting regime change in Iraq was uncanny.
- Taking out a leader or taking over a country is wise and will lead to a net gain.
- Bad guys pollute the world, and complicate our interests, so killing or replacing them alleviates those issues.
- Morally-speaking, a bad act that prevents a bad act is certainly justifiable (e.g., “the ticking time-bomb” ethical dilemma)
- Torture, murder, and reneging on signed agreements is okay because America is exceptional.
- Committing war crimes, lying to the public, etc. are okay because a greater good results.
- The “deep state” is a real thing, and it’s dangerous at times and useful at times; it depends on whichever way the wind is blowing
- Taxes are generally unfair and wasted, unless the issue at hand is something of military of geopolitical importance, in which case the sky’s the limit.
- Vengeance, ignominy, and moral debasement are okay if it gets us from A to B strategically (I am thinking about Hurd’s admission that Trump wanting to destroy Iran’s cultural sites is unacceptable — hallelujah!)(link)
- When facing a bad actor or rogue regime, at times one must coddle them, and ingratiate oneself, and at times, one must be rigid and iron-fisted; the middle, the nuances, are stuff that pansies like Obama engage in (link).
- One can spend money as needed, one can engage in regime change and interventionism abroad now; the times when that is foolish and detestable are when Democrats are in control of the Executive Branch.
- BONUS: When a Democrat is in the White House, one must defy and disrespect them in the most Machiavellian of ways so as to neuter them or remove them from office; when it’s a Republican president, one must avoid allowing justice to be done and reckoning taking place at all costs. Blowjob? That counts as besmirching the high office of the Presidency; treacherous behavior, bribery, skullduggery, and lying? Run a sham trial in the Senate and keep the President in office as long as his Twitter account is a threat.
Book idea: The Machinations of Wicked Men.
Trump is the most corrupt president of an already-pretty-corrupt country. We are ceaselessly war-mongering, willingly ushered in an electoral system that is hardly defensible (e.g., Citizens United, the Electoral College, etc), and have a grossly unfair amount of gerrymandering for electing Congresspersons. The History News Network points out that Trump is indeed the worst president we have ever seen (link).
Here is a good synopsis of the realpolitik and frankly, the buffoonery, that marks the Federal government at the highest levels, by Paul Brandus of USA Today. A snippet:
“We’ve had presidents who were used by members of their own family for personal gain, like Ulysses S. Grant. We’ve had presidents who stocked their Cabinet with greedy, self-serving mediocrities who took advantage of the public trust, like Warren G. Harding. We’ve had presidents who swore to “preserve, protect and defend” the Constitution, only to then abuse it, like Richard Nixon. And we’ve had presidents who, thanks to a presumptive sense of entitlement, lived slimy private lives, using countless women before tossing them aside — Harding again, plus John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton. President Donald Trump falls into every single sleazy category, squarely and shamelessly.”
Here are an additional dozen or so quotes on war and morality and the utter unwisdom of realpolitik a-la Nixon, Cheney, Henry Kissinger, etc.:
“I don’t want to honor military heroism — that conceals too much death and suffering. I want to honor those who all these years have opposed the horror or war.”
“The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.”
“President George W. Bush meant well when he tried to start a domino effect of democracy in the Middle East and end the awful hypocrisy of America coddling autocratic rulers. But the way he went about it was naïve and wrong.”
“Was Kissinger an idealist? Or was he, as he described one set of adversaries, “single-minded, unemotional, dedicated, and, above all, motivated by an enormous desire for power”? In 2004, the historian Jeremi Suri, author of Henry Kissinger and the American Century (2007), a warmly disposed though level-headed biography with which Kissinger cooperated, asked Kissinger, ‘What are your core moral principles—the principles you would not violate?’ Kissinger, then three decades removed from public service, responded, ‘I am not prepared to share that yet.’ ~ Jonathan Kirshner
“If we’ve learned anything from Trump’s first year, it’s that the Trump Show is always on and that the president is obsessed with the ratings. It’s leaving the country with little bandwidth to focus on anything else.”
“False consciousness: People accept the status quo out of lack of awareness that viable alternatives exist and out of ignorance as to how their rulers are violating their professed interests or out of ignorance of how they themselves are being harmed by what they think are their interests.”
“This is like ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’. I don’t know who these [Republicans] are! They have so changed their tune. This is really serious. One of the reasons I became a conservative – I was a Democrat back in the days when I was on the Judiciary Committee – was that I really believed that the Republican Party was devoted to the truth; that we believed in ideals; that we were devoted to the Constitution. But what I see happening now is people who are absolutely abrogating their duty; they are putting politics first; and they are scared. They’re scared of Donald Trump.”
“Superdelegates were never meant to be representatives of the people. They were born out of the party bosses’ need to keep delegates from voting for candidates that the bosses did not want to see get the nomination. Before 1972, there were no formal rules for how Democrats chose their presidential candidates. The turbulent 1968 Chicago convention saw party bosses Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and President Lyndon Johnson pull strings to ensure that Hubert H. Humphrey secured the nomination and would carry forward Johnson’s brutal pro-Vietnam war policies.”
“…Republicans have not been fiscal conservatives for a very long time. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush both caused the deficit to rise. More recent Republican leaders — like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell — have also been profligate with taxpayer dollars. They pass huge tax cuts, mostly for the rich, and don’t particularly care about the effect on the federal budget. But there is still one major modern Republican who deserves the label of fiscal conservative: George H.W. Bush.”
“How can we ask our brave men and women to fight a war to bring democracy to Iraq, if we allow the disenfranchisement of so many here at home?”
“If there’s a word that defines the year 2018, says Dictionary.com, it’s misinformation. An unintended consequence of the Information Age, misinformation –and its cousin, deliberate disinformation–is a rising flood tide of lies, delusions, and blind belief that imperils our ability to govern ourselves. The pollution pours in from Facebook and other social media, Russian troll farms, and a White House that denies that objective truth exists. Did Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman order the murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi? ‘Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t,’ President Trump said, shrugging off the CIA’s evidence-based conclusion that he did. When asked why his client wouldn’t testify in the Russia investigation, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani explained, ‘Truth isn’t truth.'”
“There is truth, and there is untruth.”
“Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld wanted to blow off multilateralism and snub what they called ‘the chocolate-making countries’ of France, Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg. But faced with untold billions in costs and mounting casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans are beginning to see the advantages of sidekicks who know the perils of empire.”
“In The Prince, Machiavelli refers to Savonarola and says, “Thus it comes about that all armed prophets have conquered and unarmed ones have failed.” Political ideas are centered on the issue of ends (What kind of society do we want?) and means (How will we get it?). In that one sentence about unarmed prophets, Machiavelli settled for modern governments the question of ends: conquest. And the question of means: force.”
“Is it unpatriotic to want peace? Isn’t it possible that it’s profoundly pro-American to hope that our armed forces aren’t sent to fight what one believes in an immoral and unjust war?”
“The evidence from extensive polling of evangelicals, laments evangelical theologian Michael Horton, “presents survey after survey demonstrating that evangelical Christians are as likely to embrace lifestyles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered, and sexually immoral as the world in general.” In a 1999 national survey, the Barna Group found that the percentage of born-again Christians who had been divorced was slightly higher (26 percent) than that of non-Christians (22 percent).”