With airstrike, Trump gambles on dangerous new Iran posture

In a crisis, many Americans want to be able to rely on their president's competence and judgment. Donald Trump hasn't exactly made that easy.
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By Steve Benen

Tensions between the United States and Iran were already rising. Donald Trump yesterday decided to take the situation in a dangerous new direction by targeting and killing Qassim Suleimani, a commander of Iran's military forces in the Middle East.

The United States killed a high-profile commander of Iran's secretive Quds Force, the Defense Department said late Thursday. [...]

Another man, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, said to be the deputy of the militias known as the Popular Mobilization Units and a close adviser to Suleimani, was also killed in the airstrike near Baghdad's airport, according to Iraqi television reports.

Soon after the Pentagon declared what had happened, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made clear that the administration acted without congressional approval or consultation.

What's less clear is whether the American president, who's repeatedly struggled to keep up with the basics of international affairs, and who didn't know what the Quds Force was during his candidacy, has any kind of plan or strategy for what comes next.

And what comes next is likely to be severe. Iran is already vowing to seek revenge, with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei promising "harsh retaliation."

Writing for New York magazine, Heather Hurlburt added, "The Pentagon said that this attack was intended to deter future assaults. Many experts believe it will have the opposite effect," with increased instability inside Iraq and escalating violence throughout the region.

And then, of course, there are concerns about Trump himself.

As the world comes to terms with the seriousness of the U.S. airstrike and considers the possible fallout, there are understandable questions about the person who green-lit yesterday's offensive. It's hardly unreasonable to wonder whether Donald Trump engaged in extensive study and exhaustive briefings, carefully examining the risks associated with his dangerous decision.

Love the Republican or hate him, the American president hasn't exactly earned a reputation for mature and well-informed decision-making. On the contrary, Trump is impulsive, hostile toward the advice of experts, and prone to routine tantrums.

It's against this backdrop that the scandal-plagued president, with his impeachment trial looming, has gambled on a profoundly risky new strategy -- to the extent that there is an actual "strategy." Those who lack confidence in Trump and his capacity for sound judgment have quite a bit of company.

Complicating matters, we already have a sense of his capacity for tying decisions like these to political considerations, in large part because he's made little effort to hide the association. In fact, at roughly this point eight years ago, as Barack Obama prepared to seek a second term, Donald Trump shared a prediction.

"Our president will start a war with Iran because he has absolutely no ability to negotiate," Trump said on camera in November 2011. "He's weak and he's ineffective. So the only way he figures that he's going to get re-elected -- as sure as you're sitting there -- is to start a war with Iran.... So I believe that he will attack Iran sometime prior to the election, because he thinks that's the only way he can get elected. Isn't it pathetic?"

Several months later, as Election Day 2012 drew closer, Trump turned to Twitter to declare, "I always said [Obama] will attack Iran, in some form, prior to the election."

In a crisis, many Americans want to be able to rely on their president's competence and sound judgment. Donald Trump hasn't exactly made that easy.

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