The president is smack-dab in the middle of impeachment politics. Suddenly, he orders a bold but perilous military action. His defenders vehemently argue that petty politics is getting in the way of his exercising his hugely important duties as commander in chief.
Donald Trump, the 45th president, ordered a fiery drone attack that assassinated Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s Quds Force. For decades Soleimani was the coordinator for Tehran’s proxies and had been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans. While he was a hero in Iran, he was a terrorist in American eyes. Trump and the top officials of his administration have vague answers to the question “Why now?”
Also by now, you are aware of the eerie similarities to 22 years ago, when Bill Clinton, the 42th president, ordered an airstrike against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The questions about motivation were the same, the answers also unsatisfactory, leaving suspicions then and now that they were really nothing more than cynical misuses. Skeptics say they were efforts to conjure up massively dangerous distraction by chief executives with a survival instinct that borders on narcissism.
President Clinton beat the impeachment rap. President Trump almost certainly will, but will still have to deal with a hostile response from the Iranian government that certainly will be brutal, if for no other reason than their need to save face. We just don’t know what form it will take, but it would appear that the Soleimani attack was a major escalation in the confrontation between Iran and “Great Satan” America, one that has the scary potential to escalate further into all-out war.
Both presidents had and have in common one important factor: their ability to take advantage of a weak opposition. In Clinton’s day, he had Newt Gingrich and his motley band. Gingrich, in particular, mainly succeeded in antagonizing millions of voters with his arrogance and overblown sense that he was really, really smart. Bill Clinton was really, really much smarter. But both have prospered in their political afterlife. They do know how to play the game.
So does Donald Trump. Intellect is not his strong suit, but he is awesomely street smart, managing to avoid financial disaster throughout his business life by relying on an incredible knack for self-promotion. That same amazing ability catapulted him to the presidency, although he did benefit from an ill-suited opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Both Mr. Clinton and Mr. Trump share one other characteristic that sets them aside from Hillary. Where she, as a candidate, was feckless, both of them have been reckless.
In President Clinton’s case, he had done it before. A few months back, he had also ordered a questionable military attack. As Monica Lewinsky, principal figure in his impeachment, appeared a second day before a grand jury investigating him and accusations growing out of their White House escapades, he launched missile strikes on Afghanistan and Sudan, taking attention away from Lewinsky.
Many skeptics had their suspicions about his explanations, as many do with this president, and we can only wonder whether the inevitable Iranian retaliation for the Soleimani assassination will continue to provide Donald Trump with an impeachment distraction – just like it did for Bill Clinton back in the day. Who says Trump doesn’t learn from history?
Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN. (c) 2020 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.