Any ordinary president can wag the dog, but President Trump wags the Best and Biggest dog.


The idea of launching military action to distract from domestic political troubles has been a thing at least since the 1997 film “Wag the Dog” (as in, the tail wagging the dog) gave it a name. Republicans accused President Bill Clinton of it in 1998 when he ordered airstrikes against Sudan and Iraq as impeachment loomed. Trump alleged (wrongly) that President Barack Obama would “start a war with Iran” before the 2012 election.

But now, Trump, on the eve of his impeachment trial in the Senate, has assassinated one of Iran’s top generals, the first action of its kind by the United States since World War II. And the president is using the self-created crisis as justification to shut down impeachment.

“To be spending time on this political Hoax at this moment in our history, when I am so busy, is sad!” Trump tweeted Monday morning.

“Congress & the President should not be wasting their time and energy on a continuation of the totally partisan Impeachment Hoax when we have so many important matters pending,” he tweeted later.

In other words: They can’t hold my impeachment trial because I’m busy fighting the war I just started.

It’s easy to see why Trump would like to derail a Senate trial. More damning emails about his Ukraine contretemps dribbled out during the holidays and, now, former Trump national security adviser John Bolton, one of the officials the White House ordered not to cooperate with investigators, says he’s willing to testify in a Senate trial.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Jan. 6 said Republicans would be “participating in a cover up” if they do not vote to subpoena witnesses. (U.S. Senate)

But Trump’s war-making isn’t a reason to call off the trial. In fact, Trump’s actions against Iran repeated some of the very behaviors that got him impeached in the first place.

Once again, he overrode congressional powers, refusing to inform lawmakers before the strike and mocking the War Powers Resolution by saying he’d alert lawmakers to his military actions via Twitter.

Once again, he ignored the law, repeatedly threatening illegal strikes against Iranian cultural sites and warning he might launch a “disproportionate” attack against Iran.

Once again, he spurned warnings and advice from experts within the government, this time apparently ordering the strike because he got mad while watching TV. His order reportedly stunned the Pentagon.

It’s only natural that Trump repeats those behaviors. Republicans made it clear during the impeachment fight that they condone such abuses. Why wouldn’t he see what else he could get away with?

Trump’s assassination of Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani has, at least for the moment, shifted attention from the Senate trial. Before the attack, pro-impeachment activists had scheduled a protest inside the Hart Senate Office Building for Monday, but only 45 demonstrators showed up for the event, nearly equaled by the 20 journalists and 15 police officers who greeted them. Though wearing “Remove Trump” and “Trump is Guilty” T-shirts, they were about as disruptive as a tour group.

“Why did this assassination happen now?” asked Lisa Fithian, an event organizer, in the thin crowd. She answered her own question. “This was a clear choice made by Trump,” she told me, “to drive a false patriotism to change the narrative.” And guess what? “It works,” she said.

To a point, it does. Back in 1998, when Clinton launched far less dramatic military strikes, Republicans accused him of dog-wagging. (“The timing and the policy are subject to question,” then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said.) But the Republicans argued then that the military action made it even more necessary to continue with impeachment proceedings. “As those troops are engaged now, defending . . . the Constitution of this nation, they have a right to know that the work of the nation goes forward,” then-House Majority Leader Dick Armey said.

Now, Trump has lit the Middle East on fire, with only a halfhearted attempt to justify the sudden urgency (“This president waited three years. I mean, we’ve had Soleimani in our sights for just as long as we’ve been here,” Trump strategist Kellyanne Conway told Fox News on Monday). Thousands of U.S. troops are hurriedly deploying to the region, Iraq is demanding that U.S. troops leave the country, and Iran is threatening retaliation and renewing its nuclear ambitions.

This is precisely why the impeachment trial — and Bolton’s long-sought testimony — must go forward. The same lawlessness and recklessness that led Trump to extort political help from Ukraine has now brought us, willy-nilly, to the precipice of war, as Trump openly threatens to commit war crimes. If unchecked, he’ll do this again — and worse.

The Washington Post is now the only place you can read my columns online. Sign up for this special subscription offer to keep reading. And thank you!

Trump has entered a new era of warfare by openly authorizing the assassination of another nation's military leader, using an armed drone, says David Ignatius. (The Washington Post)

Read more: