Wagging the Dog: Trump does it this time

Democracy is best taught by example not by war

In 2011 and 2012, years before he began his own presidential campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly accused President Barack Obama of seeking war with Iran to help win the 2012 presidential election. He tweeted:

“In order to get elected, @BarackObama will start a war with Iran.” (Nov. 29, 2011)

“Now that Obama’s poll numbers are in tailspin – watch for him to launch a strike in Libya or Iran. He is desperate.” (Oct. 9, 2012)

“Don’t let Obama play the Iran card in order to start a war in order to get elected–be careful Republicans!” (Oct 22, 2012)

On Thursday, January 2, 2020, President Donald Trump ordered the killing of Qassem Soleimani, a top Iranian military commander who was one of the most powerful men in the Middle East. General Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, was killed by a drone attack on his convoy at an airport in Baghdad. Among those killed were Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iran-backed militias in Iraq known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), and five others.

The strike came just a few days after supporters of the Iran-backed Iraqi militia, Kataib Hezbollah, mobbed the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. The breach at the embassy followed U.S. airstrikes on Sunday (December 29, 2019) that killed 25 fighters of the Kataib Hezbollah. The U.S. military said the strikes were in retaliation for last week’s killing of an American contractor in Dec. 27th rocket attack on an Iraqi military base in Kirkuk that the U.S. blamed on the militia.

The Defense Department said Thursday that Soleimani had “orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the last several months – including the attack on December 27th – culminating in the death and wounding of additional American and Iraqi personnel.

The assassination of General Soleimani came with Trump’s approval rating languishing at 42.4%, according to a model by FiveThirtyEight, and he is the first US president to face an impeachment trial while running for reelection.

Interestingly, Trump is not the only POTUS bombing or killing someone of high value when domestic politics shows a high disapproval rating at home. The trend has repeated many times since at least the time of Bill Clinton (1993-2000).

During the Monica Lewinsky scandal in 1998 and 1999, President Bill Clinton initiated bombing campaigns in Sudan and in Iraq, and critics claimed he was trying to divert attention.

The Al Shifa factory in Khartoum was the largest manufacturer of medicines in all of Sudan, producing over half of the country’s pharmaceutical products and specializing in anti-malaria drugs. It was “pulverized,” reduced to nothing but “broken concrete and iron bars,” leaving “thousands of brown bottles of veterinary and other medicines” littered across the sand on the direct orders of Bill Clinton on August 20, 1998. The strike was in retaliation for Osama bin Laden’s recent bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

When it was pointed out to the Clinton administration that they had just eliminated one of Sudan’s major medical suppliers, spokespeople “claimed the plant was actually a disguised chemical weapons factory.” They insisted that “soil samples taken outside the plant had shown the presence of a substance known as Empta, whose only function was to make the nerve gas VX.” The plant, they said, “was heavily guarded . . . and it showed a suspicious lack of ordinary commercial activities.” All of this turned out to be false.

Back in December 1998, Clinton authorized airstrikes against Iraq, then controlled by Saddam Hussein, only a day after the House of Representatives accused him of “high crimes and misdemeanors” in relation to his affair with the White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

The following day, Dec. 17, 1998, The New York Times had the headline “Impeachment Vote in House Delayed as Clinton Launches Iraq Air Strike, Citing Military Need to Move Swiftly”.

This article is currently available online via the NYT Time Machine:

President Clinton ordered a ”strong sustained series of air strikes” against Iraq today, defending the attack as unavoidable even as incensed Congressional Republicans charged that it was politically timed to stave off the pending resolution to impeach him in the House of Representatives.

“Iraq has abused its final chance,” Clinton declared in an address to the nation Wednesday night as televised scenes from Baghdad reverberated with flashes of explosions and anti-aircraft fire.

Even as he spoke, House Republican leaders, yielding to the eruption in the Iraq crisis, postponed their plans to bring the impeachment debate today.

“We’re going to defer,” said Speaker-designate Bob Livingston, in careful comments emphasizing support for the troops involved in the exercise.

Is Trump, like Clinton, attempting to “wag the dog,” a colloquialism that means “to distract attention away from a political scandal (in this case impeachment in the Senate, and probable removal from office), often through military action”?

As we all know now, Clinton’s strategy to “wag the dog” by launching an airstrike on Iraq during impeachment proceedings against him ultimately didn’t work. Clinton was impeached just two days after the strike.

President Ronald Reagan invaded Grenada and attacked Libya that boosted his popularity at home. Citing the threat posed to American nationals on the Caribbean nation of Grenada by that nation’s pro-Marxist regime, on Oct. 25 in 1983 President Reagan ordered U.S. forces to invade the island and to secure their safety. In little more than a week, Grenada’s government was overthrown.

The operation was code-named Operation Urgent Fury, but it was neither urgent nor furious. It was carried out mainly to serve perceived political needs inside the United States. Geostrategic reasons were secondary. Most political observers noted that the invasion had taken place days after an explosion in a U.S. military installation in Lebanon had killed more than 240 U.S. troops, which was a serious embarrassment for tough-talking Reagan. Nevertheless, the Reagan administration cited the invasion as the first successful rollback of communist influence since the beginning of the Cold War.

In public, Reagan and his aides justified their invasion with three arguments. First, they depicted Grenada’s regime as murderous, anti-American and supported by Cuba. This was true, but it did not make Grenada a threat to the United States. Second, they said they needed to protect the lives of American students, although the students did not appear to be in danger. Third, they produced a letter signed by the governor-general of Grenada, Paul Scoon, asking for intervention. It later turned out that the letter had been written in Washington, backdated and delivered to Scoon to sign after the invasion began. The real reason for the operation was Reagan’s belief that the U.S. needed a victory — any victory, anywhere.

The Reagan administration never made any attempt to negotiate with Grenada’s leaders or to evacuate American students peacefully. Its goal was not to resolve a tense situation but to destroy a regime that Reagan said was planning to “export terror and undermine democracy.” The same approach would be used six years later in Panama, during Bush Sr.’s presidency, where the United States rejected a plan by the National Guard to depose the strongman, Manuel Antonio Noriega because it wished not only to remove a leadership group but also to wipe out an entire governing system that it considered hostile.

Inside the Reagan administration, the Grenada invasion was seen as a triumph. It gave senior officials a sense of momentum, which propelled them to intensify U.S. support for pro-U.S. regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala and for Contra rebels fighting the Sandinista government of Nicaragua.

After the United Nations passed a resolution condemning the Granada invasion as a “flagrant violation of international law,” Reagan brushed it off by saying that the resolution “didn’t upset my breakfast at all.” Several members of Congress visited Grenada to bask in the glory, among them Rep. Dick Cheney of Wyoming, who said the invasion proved that the United States was once again “steady and reliable.” Cheney, as we know, was later to become the architect behind the Iraq War in 2003.

Reagan authorized the use of force against Libya. In the late evening of April 15, 1986, the United States launched a series of airstrikes on ground targets in Libya that killed many civilians including Libyan leader’s adopted daughter. Many observers noted that it was timed to divert attention from the Iran-Contra scandal that had bogued the Reagan administration.

The International Court of Justice, whose jurisdiction to decide the case was disputed by the United States, ruled that the United States had violated international law and breached treaties in Nicaragua in various ways.

Reagan’s popularity declined from 67% to 46% in less than a week, the most significant and quickest decline ever for a president. The scandal resulted in eleven convictions and fourteen indictments within Reagan’s staff.

In 1988, near the end of the Iran–Iraq War, the U.S. Navy guided-missile cruiser USS Vincennes accidentally shot down Iran Air Flight 655 killing 290 civilian passengers. The incident further worsened already tense Iran–United States relations.

When Reagan left office in 1989, he held an approval rating of 68%. This figure equaled the approval rating of Franklin D. Roosevelt (and was later matched by Bill Clinton), as the highest rating for a departing president in the modern era.

Within a year of George H.W. Bush’s oath of office, the USA invaded Panama. The operation was codenamed Operation Just Cause, which lasted over a month between mid-December 1989 and late January 1990. During the invasion, de facto Panamanian leader, general, and dictator Manuel Noriega, who for a long time worked with the Central Intelligence Agency, was deposed citing racketeering and drug trafficking.

In 1970, Noriega, a rising figure in the Panamanian military, was recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to assist in the U.S. struggle against the spread of communism in Central America. Noriega became involved in drug trafficking and in 1977 was removed from the CIA payroll. After the Marxist Sandinista government came to power in 1979, Noriega was brought back into the CIA fold. In 1983, he becomes military dictator of Panama. On January 3, 1990, Noriega was arrested by U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agents and brought to the USA.

In 1992, Noriega was found guilty on eight counts of drug trafficking, racketeering, and money laundering, marking the first time in history that a U.S. jury convicted a foreign leader of criminal charges. He was sentenced to 40 years in federal prison, but after extradition to and incarceration in Panama, he died in a Panama City hospital on May 29, 2017.

The official U.S. justification for the invasion was articulated by President George H. W. Bush on the morning of 20 December 1989, a few hours after the start of the operation. Bush listed four reasons for the invasion: (1) Safeguarding the lives of U.S. citizens in Panama; (2) Defending democracy and human rights in Panama; (3) Combatting drug trafficking. Panama had become a center for drug money laundering and a transit point for drug trafficking to the U.S. and Europe; (4) Protecting the integrity of the Torrijos–Carter Treaties.

One contemporary study, however, suggests that Bush decided to invade for domestic political reasons, citing scarce strategic reasoning for the U.S. to invade and immediately withdraw without establishing the structure to enforce the interests that Bush used to justify the invasion. [Cramer, Jane Kellett (2006). “Just Cause” or Just Politics?: U.S. Panama Invasion and Standardizing Qualitative Tests for Diversionary War”. Armed Forces & Society. 32 (2): 178–201.]

Trump’s military strike came at the very moment that defending his actions around the Ukraine scandal got much more difficult to do. E-mails from officials at the Defense Department and the Office of Management and Budget were published this week (ending on Jan. 3, 2020), showing that the decision to withhold military aid to Ukraine until it opened an investigation into political rival Joe Biden came directly from the President and that his decision came in spite of warnings from Defense Department staff that it violated U.S. law.

As noted by Lawrence Martin of the Globe and Mail (Jan. 3, 2020) with so much damning evidence to support the impeachment articles of abuse of power and obstruction of justice, “the prospect of a Senate trial becomes all the more dreaded for Mr. Trump. There is speculation that Senate Leader Mitch McConnell will avoid a trial by holding a snap vote with his Senate majority to acquit the President, but that would make a mockery of the process.”

Although Trump has already been impeached by the Congress, the airstrike occurred the day before the U.S. Senate reconvened to begin discussing his impeachment trial.

As expected, to justify President Trump’s assassination of a foreign dignitary in a third country — Vice President Pence claimed on Twitter that Soleimani helped “10 of the 12” Sept. 11 attackers travel to Afghanistan. He lied.

According to The New York Times, “That does not match established historical accounts of General Soleimani or public United States intelligence about the hijackers.”

Soleimani is not mentioned whatsoever in the “9/11 Commission Report.” The report concludes there is no evidence that either Iran or Hezbollah was aware of the 9/11 attacks. Soleimani focused on undermining Saudi Arabia, and is said to have helped facilitate the capture of Al Qaeda militants on behalf of the U.S., the Times writes.

Pence also mentioned 12 attackers, but there were 19, according to the US official count.

Published reports suggest that General Soleimani – credited for raising the Shi’ite militia that overthrew the Daesh (ISIS) from Iraq and Syria – was a potential target for killing by the USA for a long time – dating back to prior presidential administrations – and it appears the Trump administration may have laid the legal groundwork for the strike as early as April when the State Department designated the Revolutionary Guard as a foreign ‘terrorist’ organization. The U.S. intelligence had been tracking Soleimani’s movements throughout the region and the strike depended on his appearance at the airport. Otherwise, it would have been called off.

While defending President Trump’s decision, the Department of Defense released a statement saying that Trump ordered the attack as “General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.” But it may be worth noting that Trump has repeatedly argued that starting a war with Iran was one way to beef up political support before an election, something that he himself accused President Obama. Is he now wagging the dog? After all, with his back against the wall, the timing for the attack could not have been any better for him!

Trump has tried to justify the assassination of General Soleimani by saying that it was “to stop a war, not to start one”.

Facts are quite different. From the very first day in the White House, Trump had been the ‘trigger man’ and the best benefactor of Netanyahu and his apartheid regime in Israel, which has always wanted the USA to do its proxy-war in the Muslim world, esp. attack and destroy Iran since 1979 when the popular revolution replaced the Shah of Iran with a regime that it considered hostile. Trump set the stage for the rising U.S.-Iran tensions by fulfilling a campaign promise to abandon former President Obama’s landmark nuclear deal with Tehran in May 2018. He re-imposed sanctions against Iran and its trade partners, further isolating the U.S. from European allies who were signatories to the accord and set in motion ripple effects that led to deeper regional tensions across the Middle East.

What followed was a series of provocations, which included Trump sending an aircraft carrier strike group and B-52 bombers to the region last year.

In a sign of American ‘exceptionalism’ and Pharaonic arrogance to act as the plaintiff, jury, judge, and executor, Trump designated the IRGC and Hezbollah as terrorist groups. Thus, the execution of Soleimani came easy for him. This latest assassination of very high-ranking government officials of Iran by the Trump administration, however, marks a major escalation in tensions between the two governments. Never before has a government minister or general of a foreign nation been killed by the US forces without declaring a state of war against that country. US officials said 3,000 additional troops would be sent to the Middle East as a precaution.

Predictably, Netanyahu has praised Trump for killing Soleimani while Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi of Iraq has labeled the missile strike as a “brazen violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and a blatant attack on the nation’s dignity”.

Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations has warned the US “has started a military war by an act of terror”. He declared Iran “has to act, and we will act”.

Meanwhile, Iraqi state television said there had been another airstrike in the country, 24 hours after the killing of Soleimani. An Iraqi army source told the Reuters news agency that six people were killed in the new strike, which hit a medical convoy of Iraqi militia in the early hours of Saturday (January 4, 2020) morning local time. Iraq’s parliament announced that it would hold an emergency meeting on Sunday. The US State Department warned Americans in Iraq to leave “immediately”.

There is little doubt that the assassination of Soleimani is one of the diversionary tactics, the likes of which we have seen many times from the mass murderers in the White House.

“So what if Trump wants war, knows this leads to war and needs the distraction? Real question is, will those with congressional authority step in and stop him?” Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., posted to Twitter on Friday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the strike was carried out “without the consultation of Congress.” In June of 2019, Pelosi had said that action against Iran “must not be initiated” without congressional approval, after Trump had approved and then reversed a decision to strike Iran over the downing of a US drone.

In a sign of Iraq’s mounting anger over a U.S. drone attack that killed Iran’s top general, Qasem Soleimani, as well as an Iraqi leader of Tehran-backed militias, Iraq’s parliament on Sunday voted to expel U.S. military forces from the country.

Iraq’s Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi told lawmakers that a timetable for the withdrawal of all foreign troops, including U.S. ones, was required “for the sake of our national sovereignty.” About 5,000 American troops are in various parts of Iraq.

Mahdi described the strike authorized by President Donald Trump as a “political assassination” and said it was “time for American troops to leave.”

The resolution was supported by a majority of about 180 lawmakers present in Parliament, according to Iraqi media.

The UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres joined global calls for de-escalation as he cautioned the “world cannot afford” another Gulf War. He is right. The last Gulf War was built on lies, something that Trump himself has often complained about. Will he be now the culprit starting the new one to ‘wag the dog’?

History repeats! Only the wise ones take the lessons from it while the fools and arrogant ones only repeat the blunders.