Wednesday, January 8, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to shift the blame for losing Iraq to Iran.

Trump addressed the nation today, beginning with a demand that Americans be "grateful and happy" for his handling of the crisis unfolding in Iran and Iraq. 

The speech was riddled with factual errors and lies. Trump said that the United States didn't need Middle Eastern oil anymore, but in reality almost 20% of American oil consumption comes from that region. He got both the beginning (2015, not 2013) and ending dates (2040, not "shortly") of the Iran nuclear agreement wrong. He claimed that to have "completely rebuilt" the entire military, which could mean anything but can't really be true regardless.

But most of Trump's lies or errors were aimed at trying to shift the blame for the debacle to President Obama. In particular, he said that "The missiles fired last night at us and our allies were paid for by the funds made available by the last administration." 

This just isn't true.

Trump has made little secret of his hatred for Obama, or his desire to destroy his predecessor's legislative and diplomatic achievements, if only to limit the credit that Obama gets for them. Last year, Trump withdrew the United States from the deal that limited the amount of enriched uranium Iran could produce, an amount enforced and monitored by international inspectors. (Enriched uranium can be used either for generating energy, or as a precursor to building nuclear weapons.) 

Iran was complying in spite of Trump's actions until this week.

Many observers have wondered if the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, an Iranian general, was Trump's way of—somewhat successfully—distracting from his recent impeachment over his attempts to force Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election. He accused President Obama of doing exactly that, too, in 2011. (Obama won re-election in 2012 without going to war with Iran.)

Those suspicions were deepened today when, in a "briefing" six days after the fact for members of Congress, he refused to allow the Defense Department to actually say what imminent threat Soleimani represented. Even Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), normally a staunch defender of Trump, called it the "worst briefing on a military issue" he'd ever seen. Lee said that no evidence of any threat was presented, which fits with the similar lack of explanation for his actions that Trump has offered the American people.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, Sen. Lee was visibly furious at the Trump administration's claim, delivered in the classified session, that for Congress to even discuss its constitutional responsibility to control Trump's ability to launch attacks would somehow weaken the United States. As he put it:

I find this insulting and demeaning to the Constitution of the United States. It's un-American. It's unconstitutional. And it's wrong. ...They are appearing before a coordinate branch of government responsible for their funding, for their confirmation, for any approval of any military action they might take. They had to leave after 75 minutes while they were in the process of telling us that we need to be good little boys and girls and not debate this in public. I find that to be absolutely insane. I think it's unacceptable.

Why does this matter?

  • It's wrong for Presidents to lie to the American people, especially about something this important.
  • The most powerful person in the world probably ought to be able to take responsibility for his own actions.
  • The United States is not weakened by following the Constitution, even if it might hurt the president's political needs.