As he gears up for a tough reelection campaign, President Donald Trump just approved a military strike that assassinated one of the most powerful people in Iran, Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani — a move that many experts are calling an “act of war,” and one that dramatically increases the chances that outright conflict between Iran and the United States breaks out this year.
On Twitter, Trump justified the assassination by claiming that Suleimani “was plotting to kill many” Americans. During President Barack Obama’s tenure, however, Trump took a much more cynical view of the possibility of armed conflict with Iran during the lead up to a presidential election.
In 2011, ‘12, and ‘13, Trump repeatedly predicted that Obama would start a war with Iran to shore up his political support at home.
“In order to get elected, @BarackObama will start a war with Iran,” Trump tweeted in November 2011.
Days before that tweet, Trump posted a video in which he claimed that “Our president will start a war with Iran because he has absolutely no ability to negotiate. He’s weak and he’s ineffective. So the only way he figures that he’s going to get reelected — and as sure as you’re sitting there — is to start a war with Iran.”
Trump on Nov. 16, 2011:
“Our president will start a war with Iran because he has absolutely no ability to negotiate. He’s weak and he’s ineffective. So the only way he figures that he’s going to get reelected — and as sure as you’re sitting there — is to start a war with Iran.” pic.twitter.com/usZFLiHnBw
— JM Rieger (@RiegerReport) January 3, 2020
Trump posted tweets on that same theme throughout 2012, including just weeks before Obama’s victory over Republican candidate Sen. Mitt Romney.
Don’t let Obama play the Iran card in order to start a war in order to get elected–be careful Republicans!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 22, 2012
Even after Obama won reelection, Trump continued to predict that he would eventually start a war with Iran for political reasons.
I predict that President Obama will at some point attack Iran in order to save face!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 16, 2013
Trump’s predictions not only turned out to be false, but the irony is that instead of starting a war, the Obama administration’s diplomacy resulted in the multilateral Iran nuclear deal. Now that he’s president, however, Trump has gone down a very different path, unilaterally pulling the US out of the nuclear deal, pursuing a “maximum pressure” campaign aimed at crippling Iran’s economy, and assassinating the head of the country’s paramilitary forces.
It’s no secret by now that many of Trump’s attacks on his political foes are projection. He’s spent months accusing former Vice President Joe Biden of corruption, despite the fact that Trump himself is arguably the most corrupt president in American history. He called Obama “a total patsy” for Russia even though he’s never been able to bring himself to say a cross word about Russian President Vladimir Putin. He also attacked Hillary Clinton for purportedly silencing women who accused her husband of sexual misconduct at the same time Trump’s lawyer was making illegal hush payments to women to cover up affairs.
It’s true that tensions with Iran did escalate dramatically in the days leading up to Suleimani’s assassination, and it’s possible that Trump’s decision to approve the drone strike was rooted in intelligence about a forthcoming attack against Americans or American interests.
But if Trump’s comments about the political expediency of starting a war in an election year represent another instance of his tendency to project his own shortcomings on others, then American foreign policy just entered a dangerous new phase.
At the very least, you would think someone who not only campaigned on bringing American troops home, but also warned against starting a war with Iran in an election year, would be wary of doing just that.