If truth is the first casualty of war, the second casualty of war is credibility. Last week, much of the American media chose not to believe Mike Pompeo when he presented a Central Command video which, he said, showed an Iranian crew tinkering with limpet mines and an oil tanker.
‘Tankers Are Attacked in the Mideast, and US Says Video Shows Iran Was Involved,’ was the New York Times’s headline. An op-ed in the same issue pondered whether the administration’s ‘narrative’ of the tanker attacks was a Gulf of Tonkin-style fake.
Today, the Times is certain of its facts: ‘Trump Approves Strikes on Iran, but Then Abruptly Pulls Back.’ It has the ring of truth, which is always dangerous whether it is true or not. And we incline to believe it not so much because it reflects the hair-trigger nature of US-Iran tensions, or because the story is well-sourced — our DC editor, Curt Mills, heard the story on Tuesday night from three different sources — but because it seems to reflect one of the few commonly held ‘narratives’ in modern American life: the psychology of Donald Trump.
Presidents of War Best Price: $6.36 Buy New $11.25 (as of 12:50 EDT - Details) Trump is not a warmonger. He is a monger of the commodities whose value rises in times of peace and stability: golf courses, luxury apartments, university degrees, reality TV. He is, as he ceaselessly reminds us, the winner in the race of life. He received the presidency as a kind of gold watch, confirming decades of selfless service to himself.
Trump is, though, a patriot. His patriotism is part of his bottom-line realism: if you’ve invested in America, of course you should love it and seek to protect your investment. So far, this has served him and the American people better than the wisdom of the policy experts served all the other post-Cold War presidencies.
Looking back, every president since 1990 made serious errors in war. George H.W. Bush chose not to finish the job in Iraq. Bill Clinton antagonized Russia and China by bombing Serbia. Most disastrously, George W. Bush chose to finish the job in Iraq, and start a war in Afghanistan. Barack Obama casually destroyed Libya.
It is to Trump’s enormous credit that, though every problem looks like a nut to a man with a hammer, he has so far avoided using American military power as a substitute for thought and policy. It is now Trump’s dilemma that the nuts who run Iran are daring him to drop the hammer. As usual, this dilemma has arisen in part because of Trump’s own actions.