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The Reality TV Star President May Have Just Kicked Off WWIII

Plenty of people across the political spectrum foolishly bought into the ludicrous premise that Trump would be some sort of dove, a noninterventionist, an old-fashioned isolationist. That is utterly wrong.

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President Donald Trump makes a video call to the troops stationed worldwide at the Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
  1. No, Trump Was Never a Dove
  2. Immediate Calls for Congress to Rein in Trump

No, Trump Was Never a Dove

Mehdi Hassan
The Intercept

IN SEPTEMBER 2015, then-Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump appeared on the syndicated radio show of conservative media star, Hugh Hewitt, to talk foreign policy.

“Are you familiar with General Suleimani?” Hewitt asked the real estate mogul from Queens.

“Yes,” said Trump, before hesitating. “Go ahead, give me a little … tell me.”

When Hewitt told Trump that Suleimani “runs the Quds Forces,” Trump responded: “I think the Kurds, by the way, have been horribly mistreated by us.”

“No, not the Kurds, the Quds Forces,” Hewitt interjected. “The Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Quds Forces. The bad guys.”

“I thought you said Kurds,” a sheepish Trump replied.

Got that? Candidate Trump confused the Quds Force, an elite Iranian military unit then led by high-profile Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, with the Kurds, a high-profile ethnic group in the Middle East.

Now fast forward four years and four months to yesterday, when President Trump ordered the assassination of Suleimani from his golf course. In an official statement that misstated the name of the organization that Suleimani was in charge of, the Pentagon said the strike was “aimed at deterring future Iranian retaliation plans.”

This is not a column, however, about the consequences of the U.S. government assassinating the second-most powerful man in Iran (spoiler: they’re going to be dire!). Nor is it a column about the legality of such a deadly strike on a foreign official on foreign soil (spoiler: it’s hard to justify!).

Rather, this is a column that allows me to express my ongoing astonishment that Donald Trump is president of the United States; my ongoing bewilderment with a world in which an unhinged, know-nothing former reality TV star and property developer, with zero background in foreign affairs or national security, may have just kicked off World War III. (From his golf course, no less.)

It’s also a column that allows me to revisit what I have long considered to be the most unforgivable take of the 2016 presidential race: “Donald The Dove, Hillary the Hawk.” That was the ridiculous headline to the New York Times column from Maureen Dowd in April 2016, in which she falsely claimed that Trump had opposed the Iraq War “like Obama,” and then credulously suggested that, in contrast to Clinton, “he would rather do the art of the deal than shock and awe.”

Plenty of people across the political spectrum foolishly bought into the ludicrous premise that Trump would be some sort of dove.

A reminder: Trump pulled out of the landmark Iran nuclear deal less than 18 months after assuming office. He replaced his predecessor’s nuclear diplomacy with a “maximum pressure” campaign on Tehran, which had pushed the United States and the Islamic Republic to the brink of war even before this latest dangerous escalation.

Dowd was wholly, utterly, and embarrassingly wrong — as some of us tried to explain at the time. But it wasn’t just her. Plenty of other people across the political spectrum foolishly bought into the ludicrous premise that Trump would be some sort of dove, a noninterventionist, an old-fashioned isolationist.

And plenty of my colleagues in the media continue to push this deluded view. Remember: Trump has twice bombed the Assad regime in Syria; reduced Mosul and Raqqa to rubble; vetoed a congressional attempt to end U.S. involvement in the Saudi bombardment of Yemen; and overseen a fivefold increase in drone strikes throughout the region and beyond. Yet on New Year’s Eve, the New York Times still insisted on bizarrely referring to “the president’s reluctance to use force in the Middle East.”

That line, of course, hasn’t aged so well. Less than 72 hours later, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force and the deputy head of the Iran-backed militias in Iraq, are dead. Killed via drone.

THE UNITED STATES has now effectively declared war on Iran. This is no longer a “cold” war or a “shadow” war. It’s a war-war. And here’s what so terrifying about it: The current commander-in-chief of the U.S. military as it readies for open conflict with Tehran is the guy who last week accused Canada’s prime minister of cutting him out of a Canadian TV version of “Home Alone 2″; who regularly retweets QAnon, Pizzagate, and white nationalist accounts on Twitter; who believes that Ukraine is in possession of a nonexistent Democratic National Committee server; who thinks climate change is a Chinese hoax; who wants to use nuclear weapons to stop hurricanes; and who is willing to take a Sharpie to an official government map in order to prove he was right about the weather (when he was, in fact, 100 percent wrong).

Here’s the twist, though: There were two recent amendments to the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, in the House of Representatives that might have prevented this week’s escalation with Iran: Rep. Ro Khanna’s amendment to block funding for any military action against Iran that lacks congressional approval, and Rep. Barbara Lee’s amendment to repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force. Both of these amendments, however, were stripped from the final NDAA that passed the House and Senate — with the approval of elected Democrats in both chambers.

Shame on those Democrats.

And God help the rest of us.

Progressives Call for Congressional Action

Eoin Higgins
Common Dreams

Progressives on Friday, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, called for Congressional action to rein in the administration after a drone strike ordered by President Donald Trump killed Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani, a move seen by observers as an act of war that is nearly certain to exacerbate a historically tense moment in the Persian Gulf region.

"Right now is the moment to decide if you are pro-peace or not," tweeted Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat.

"Congress now has a moral and legal obligation to reassert its power to stop this war and protect innocent people from horrific consequences," the congresswoman added.

Ocasio-Cortez joined a growing chorus from the left urging restraint and diplomacy from the U.S. and Iran. 

"There is no military solution to this crisis," Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in a statement. "Instead, we must pursue meaningful diplomacy to achieve peace and stability in the region."

Jayapal added in a tweet that Soleimani's killing "dangerously doubles down on reckless military brinkmanship."

The attack on Soleimani, one of the leaders of Iran's Quds Force and a major figure in the Iranian government, and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis came on Friday morning near the Baghdad airport. 

By striking the Iranian leader, Ploughshares Fund director of programs Michelle Dover told Common Dreams in an email, the U.S. "has imperiled any near term chances for diplomacy."

"The primary question now is whether the U.S. government is prepared for the Iranian response," said Dover. "The U.S. public should be calling on Congress to assert its authorities and oversight roles to prevent an unintentional slide into war." 

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) in a statement called for peace and noted that the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), first passed by Congress in 2001 days after the 9/11 attacks with Lee as the sole dissenting vote, was used by the White House as the justification for the strike. 

"We must work to prevent further military action in the region," said Lee. "We have known for years that there is no military solution, and it's past time to return to a diplomatic strategy with our allies. We must protect our national security, our brave troops, our allies, and the American people."

Lee included in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) an amendment which would have repealed the AUMF, but, as Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) pointed out on Twitter, that language was stripped from the final bill delivering the president billions in war funding, which passed Congress with bipartisan support. 

Liberal advocacy group MoveOn on Friday launched a petition asking Congress to halt the march to war. 

"Congress is the only branch of government that has the constitutional power to decide where and whether to send U.S. forces into harm's way," the group said. "We urge you to act immediately to stop a catastrophic war with Iran."

The Nation's Jeet Heer warned Friday that Congress has not been known recently for its bravery in the face of war-time presidents.

"Trump's petty motives and incoherent policy have been enabled by a Congress that has long been derelict in its duty to provide oversight over foreign policy," said Heer. "This abdication of responsibility is all too typical of American politics since the 9/11 terrorist attacks—under both Democratic and Republican presidents."

In a statement to Common Dreams, Alliance for Peacebuilding president and CEO Uzra Zeya said that the correct response to the continuing tensions is trying to find a way forward without violence.

"We must reject retribution and military action towards all-out war that endangers the future of Iranians and Americans alike," said Zeya. "Peacebuilding—in the form of de-escalation, dialogue, restraint, and diplomacy—is now more important than ever."

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Eoin Higgins is a Common Dreams staff writer