It was not just Trump’s slurred words or the incoherent screed he delivered on Wednesday. It was not just his threat to commit war crimes. It was not just Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s arrogant dismissal of any skepticism about an “imminent threat,” nor the administration’s contempt for Congress’ role in war-making. It was not just the administration’s blithe disregard for Iran’s capacity to inflict serious harm on Americans through surrogates or cyberterrorism. It was the recognition that we were dependent on the Iranians, of all people, to deescalate and that left to his devices, Trump surely would have sent us careening into a disastrous war.
Each time Pompeo snidely declared we should take the administration’s words as gospel, he heightened the conviction that we should not trust these people any farther than we could throw them. Vanity Fair’s T.A. Frank aptly writes: “Trump looks less like a stealth strategist than a loony gambler who wins low rewards in exchange for sickening risks.” The administration is so reckless and thoughtless that even some Republicans or ex-Republicans who generally would defer to the president on national security matters are now hollering for Congress to tie his hands.
Brian Katulis and Peter Juul from the Center for American Progress remind us that Iran’s most potent tools — its capacity for cyberwarfare and its “network of terrorist organizations, proxies and criminal organizations stretching from Afghanistan to West Africa and including the Western Hemisphere” — remain available in the weeks and months ahead to avenge Soleimani’s killing. Katulis and Juul deadpan that “we need a more balanced and steady approach on Iran than we’ve seen in the past three years.” Yes, a sane, stable and informed president would be helpful right about now. Unfortunately, it turns out that Trump’s unhinged conduct is not only self-impeaching, but self-enfeebling.
“We must restore trust and confidence in America’s own intelligence and law enforcement institutions, not launch corrosive political inquisitions against them,” Katulis and Juul warn. "We must work with our allies and partners around the world to defend against terrorism and cyberattacks, not undermine our credibility through social media bluster we’re unwilling to back up.” But wait a minute. After the last week, does anyone think there is the slightest chance Trump can do any of those, let alone all of them? Americans can barely persuade Trump not to start a disastrous war. Indeed, removing Trump is a prerequisite to pursuing the smart objectives Katulis and Juul outline.
Trump and his advisers have nowhere near the understanding, judgment, self-discipline, competence or diplomatic deftness to conduct themselves in ways designed to lower tensions, and even if they suddenly acquired those qualities, the damage they already have wrought will take months or even years to reverse. Trump’s trashing of the intelligence community, of allies and of cold-hard facts has done lasting harm to our international standing and to his ability to rally the country. He has bled himself dry of moral authority and credibility, both of which are essential to carry out the duties of commander in chief. Trump cannot lead us; he can only scare us.