Here we go.
In words that sound remarkably like the build-up to the war in Iraq, Pentagon officials were finishing plans for presentation to the White House this morning seeking a presidential decision to send up to 10,000 troops to the Middle East to stymie any ill plans, this time by Iran.
As widely reported in the news media, the plans were extremely fuzzy, as has the explanation for what exactly the need is, what has constituted provocation from Iran.
According to the Associated Press, the military will present plans for up to 10,000 more troops to the Middle East, additional Patriot missile batteries, more ships and increased equipment to monitor Iran. No decision has been made, and, of course, with as mercurial a president as Donald Trump, it is unclear whether any or all of the requests will be approved.
As recently as Tuesday, Trump said he did not want war with Iran. Then he told a rally that any provocation would be the “end” of Iran. You decide.
Meanwhile, Iran is reportedly pretty steamed over all the war talk, and, according to diplomats speaking to The Washington Post, are telling all that they need to abandon a strategy of restraint and start pushing back against the White House.
Apparently, that means that in the face of tightened economic sanctions and military threats, “Iran is now seeking to highlight the costs it could also impose on the United States — for instance, by disrupting the world’s oil supply — without taking actions likely to trigger an all-out war.”
The chances of a misstep, a mischaracterization, a misreading of moves make the Middle East suddenly seem much more a tinderbox than usual.
Meanwhile, Congress members who were briefed by the administration this week left informational meetings frankly confused about what had been old Iranian abuses, older complaints about Iran, or fresh signs of war-like provocation.
In light of all of this, here’s what occurs to me:
- Donald Trump campaigned against unwanted and unneeded wars in the Middle East. He has taken glee in withdrawing all troops from Iraq, only to then turn around and keep some, and hastening the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. He made belligerent remarks about North Korea, Venezuela and Iran, then withdrew all. As commander-in-chief, he is at best someone interested in the appearance of strength as if boasting can chase away actual military issues. Promises made, promises kept? How about Promises made, love the local strongman unless he is blocking our way to more oil?
- Trump’s America First foreign policy has isolated the United States as it approaches the Iranian problem. Even if he deploys an estimated 120,000 troops – to do what, exactly? – the United States needs more troops from its usual coalition partners, the same partners he has criticized and distanced from the United States.
- Trump is isolated at home even more than among overseas allies. He lacks real congressional allies outside of Republicans who fear that he will undercut their reelection, by choice, he lacks a full bench of thinkers and strategists in the White House, he will be blocked by Democrats at every turn who think the president is less than fully rational. So, he is relying on gut and on the voices of John Bolton, who has wanted war with Iran for a generation, an acting defense secretary, and perhaps Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who may be doing what he thinks Trump wants.
- Trump dumped the nuclear weapons agreement with Iran, which he says now he really wants, but only if Iran also stops all other forms of aggression in the region, something for which there is now zero chance.
- Under severe political pressure from Congress, multiple House investigations, the state of New York, 24 Democratic presidential candidates, unfinished business with the prosecutors of the Southern District of New York and Eastern Virginia, Trump is lashing out like a treed, scared cat.
- Trump, who has decried intelligence agencies from his first week in office, now finds that he must rely on exactly those agencies to make a decision about deploying U.S. troops, the exact deployments he campaigned against as a waste of human and financial resources for no real purpose.
Under those combined circumstances, you and I are supposed to accept a decision that may start rolling out today about deploying our sons and daughters to fight a war with no clear guidelines or goals, based on evidence that apparently is funky and flaky.
Is this how we Make America Great?