Trump’s ignorance has created an international crisis
During the early morning hours of Sept. 15, 1950, Gen. Douglas MacArthur would lead U.S.-troops on the most audacious amphibious landing in U.S. history. The assault at Inchon in South Korea was viewed beforehand as being so reckless that the Joint Chiefs of Staff dismissed the proposal out of hand. 'We drew up a list of every conceivable and natural handicap,' one naval officer remembered later, 'and Inchon had them all.'
To succeed, U.S. troops would have to navigate their way through a tortuous, heavily fortified channel before facing some of the most deadly tides in Asia. With U.S. soldiers pinned down on the southeastern tip of the Korean Peninsula, failure at Inchon could have led to total defeat in Korea.
MacArthur's arrogant belief in his own infallibility allowed him to see opportunity where others saw only peril. But the legendary general brought more than a bloated ego to battle; he also carried with him a mastery of military history and, with it, the knowledge of Japan's successful 1904 landing at the same treacherous port. That insight served MacArthur well and reversed, almost overnight, the grim trajectory of America's so-called Forgotten War.
President Trump's decision last week to assassinate the most powerful military figure in the Middle East was, likewise, audacious. But unlike MacArthur at Inchon, Trump likely did not grasp the gravity of his decision. How could he? The former reality-TV star has long been ignorant of world history and current events. During a 2015 interview, then-candidate Trump did not even know who Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani was. After prompting, Trump mistakenly identified the Iranian general as a Kurdish commander. Once Trump's ignorance was revealed, the frustrated candidate weakly attacked the interviewer for 'throwing around names of people and where they live.'
The danger posed by that ignorance is matched daily by the crises created by Trump's own erraticism. His performance as commander in chief has been shaped by a collection of scattered grievances, emotional impulses and random tweets. As the Financial Times's Philip Stephens has said of Trump's foreign policy, 'Looking for a framework is like searching for symmetrical patterns in a bowl of spaghetti.'
This is, after all, a president who spent last summer withholding military aid from a besieged democratic ally while pressuring its leaders to investigate a political opponent. Then, stepping in front of a bank of White House cameras, he asked the same of China. Trump also declared himself 'The Chosen One' while embracing the title of 'King of Israel,' ordered American companies to leave China, manipulated U.S. markets by lying about phone calls with leaders of that same country and canceled bilateral meetings with a NATO leader because she refused to sell Greenland.
Trump's increasingly erratic behavior received much attention at the time, with the Associated Press's Jonathan Lemire and Zeke Miller noting in July that the United States' foreign policy had become unmoored after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and others were driven from the administration. Jeffrey Goldberg, editor of the Atlantic, followed with an article appropriately titled 'He's Getting Worse,' in which he glumly noted that 'there is no reason to hope that he will reform. His followers reward his radicalism and his handlers are among the most cynical figures in American political history.'
We now find ourselves living through a time when those same administration officials are providing reckless counsel to an ignorant and erratic president. Though he shares MacArthur's sense of infallibility, Trump spends most of his waking hours showing the world just how fallible he is. Critics have long warned of a time when this fatally flawed man would be forced to confront an international crisis.
That time has arrived and it is a crisis of Trump's own making.
Soleimani was a malevolent force on the world stage. But so, too, is Kim Jong Un. Will the North Korean dictator be next on the president's kill list? What of Syria's Bashar al-Assad? He is responsible for more deaths than any Arab leader since Saddam Hussein. And what stabilizing impact did the Iraqi tyrant's death have on the region?
Contrary to the vows of candidate Trump, it is likely that the killing of Soleimani will now only deepen U.S.-involvement in a region that has already claimed too many American lives. With Russia firmly ensconced in Syria, Iraqi discontent on the rise and Iran's nuclear program restarted, expect more Americans to die across the Middle East in the coming years. With his audacious attack, Trump has further isolated the United States from its allies, provided a lifeline to Iran's terrorist regime and broken yet another of his campaign promises.
Inchon this is not.