Only one person can save us from the dangerous belligerent in the White House.
And that person is Donald Trump.
How screwed up is that?
Will the president let himself be pushed into a parlous war by John Bolton, who once buoyed the phony case on W.M.D.s in Iraq? Or will Trump drag back his national security adviser and the other uber hawks from the precipice of their fondest, bloodiest desire — to attack Iran?
Can Cadet Bone Spurs, as Illinois senator and Iraq war vet Tammy Duckworth called Trump, set Tom Cotton straight that winning a war with Iran would not merely entail “two strikes, the first strike and the last strike”? Holy cakewalk.
Once, we counted on Trump’s advisers to pump the brakes on an out-of-control president. Now, we count on the president to pump the brakes on out-of-control advisers.
.. “On one side, you have a president who doesn’t want war, who simply wants to do with Iran what he has done with North Korea, to twist the arm of the Iranians to bring them to a negotiation on his terms,” said Gérard Araud, the recently departed French ambassador. “He thinks they will suffer and at the end, they will grovel in front of his power.”
But in a way, Araud said, the face-off with the Iranians is more “primitive and dangerous” because, besides Bolton, other factions in the Middle East are also “dreaming of going to war.”
“Even if Trump doesn’t personally want war, we are now at the mercy of any incident, because we are at maximum tension on both sides,” said Araud, recalling Candidate Trump’s bellicose Twitter ultimatumsin 2016 when Iran’s Revolutionary Guards held American sailors blindfolded at gunpoint for 15 hours.
Given their sour feelings about W. shattering the Middle East and their anger at Trump shredding the Iran nuclear deal, Europeans are inclined to see the U.S. as trying to provoke Iran into war. This time, the Europeans will not be coming along — and who can blame them?
I’m having an acid flashback to 2002, when an immature, insecure, ill-informed president was bamboozled by his war tutors.
In an echo of the hawks conspiring with Iraqi exiles to concoct a casus belli for Iraq, Bolton told members of an Iranian exile group in Paris in 2017 that the Trump administration should go for regime change in Tehran.
“And that’s why, before 2019, we here will celebrate in Tehran!” Bolton cheerily told the exiles.
When Bolton was the fifth column in the Bush 2 State Department — there to lurk around and report back on flower child Colin Powell — he complained that W.’s Axis of Evil (Iran, Iraq, North Korea) was too limited, adding three more of his own (Cuba, Libya, Syria). Then, last year, Bolton talked about “the Troika of Tyranny” (Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela). His flirtations with military intervention in Venezuela this month irritated Trump.
The 70-year-old with the Yeti mustache is an insatiable interventionist with an abiding faith in unilateralism and pre-emptive war. (The cost of our attenuated post-9/11 wars is now calculated at $5.9 trillion.)
W. and Trump are similar in some ways but also very different. As Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio notes: W. was interested in clarity. Trump wants chaos. W. wanted to trust his domineering advisers. Trump is always imagining betrayal. W. wanted to be a war hero, like his dad. Trump does not want to be trapped in an interminable war that will consume his presidency.
Certainly, the biographer says, Trump enjoys playing up the scary aspects of brown people with foreign names and ominous titles, like “mullah” and “ayatollah,” to stoke his base.
But Trump, unlike W., is driven by the drama of it. “It’s a game of revving up the excitement and making people afraid and then backing off on the fear in order to declare that he’s resolved the situation,” D’Antonio said. “Trump prefers threats and ultimatums to action because that allows him to look big and tough and get attention without doing something for which he will be held responsible. This is who he is at his core: an attention-seeking, action-averse propagandist who is terrified of accountability in the form of coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base.”
David Axelrod, who had the military briefing about what a war with Iran would look like when he was in the Obama White House, said: “I’m telling you. It’s not a pretty picture.”
He says he is not sure which movie Bolton is starring in: “Dr. Strangelove” or “Wag the Dog.”
“If part of your brand is that you’re not going to get the U.S. into unnecessary wars,” he said, “why in the world would you hire John Bolton?”
The House of Representatives has passed an important resolution calling on the U.S. to end support for the Saudi/United Arab Emirates war in Yemen. Congratulations to Rep. Ro Khanna, who has waged this fight for almost two years. (Self-promotional aside: He says he introduced the bill after he read one of my 2017 columns on Yemen. I have the best readers!) I hope the Saudis and Emiratis will get the message and end this tragic war, for which there is no military solution.
One of my concerns is that the opposite will happen: The Saudis might try to embroil the U.S. in a war with Iran,
- partly to bring Riyadh and Washington closer together,
- partly to distract from Saudi problems, and
- partly to teach the Iranians a lesson.
There are plenty of Iranian, Saudi and American ships in the Gulf and hotheads on each side, so it would be easy to have a murky accident that both sides mishandle and then escalate. The crown prince already tried to boost his fortunes by starting one war, with Yemen, and it is conceivable he’ll try to do the same again
President Trump and his staff have often criticized The New York Times and other news organizations for bias, arguing that we should just report what the president says without trying to analyze whether it’s true or is consistent with other things he has said. I think in fact that we should do the opposite: Where we in the media have screwed up the worst, I believe, is in cases like the run-up to the Iraq War, where we were more lap dogs than watch dogs. My colleague David Sanger (whom I met in our freshman year of college and who was the best man at my wedding), has written an eloquent essay explaining why we point out inaccuracies and inconsistencies even though we know the White House will object. His key phrase: “We’re not stenographers.”
Speaking of journalism, it is horrifying to see the way a New York hedge fund, Alden Global Capital, has systematically purchased and pillaged newspapers around the country, squeezing them for a final bit of revenue as it destroys them. Alden represents the worst of capitalism, targeting a public good and systematically trying to destroy it (often for the underlying real estate that newspapers own). Led by Randall D. Smith, R. Joseph Fuchs and Heath Freeman, the company is now trying to acquire newspapers around the country owned by Gannett, presumably so that it can rip them apart as well. I hope for the sake of newspapers around America, Gannett shareholders resist these barbarians at the gate.
It has been a year since the Parkland, Fla., massacre claimed 17 lives, and we remain as vulnerable as ever to shootings — in a way that Canadians and Europeans are not. I originally wrote a piece in 2017 about modest, sensible steps we could take to reduce the carnage, and I’m recirculating it now because it remains tragically relevant. In addition, check out this satirical Times video about when the right time is for politicians to act on gun control.