Alan Zendell, January 5, 2020
I just filled out my absentee ballot for the Maryland 7th Congressional District’ Special Primary Election to fill the seat left vacant by the passing of long time representative Elijah Cummings. Cummings will be best remembered by Americans who are not from Maryland as the recipient of the brunt of President Trump’s vicious and inaccurate attacks on the City of Baltimore. Agree or disagree with him, Cummings was the antithesis of Trump – someone who cared more about truth and the welfare of his constituents than wealth and power. Because I believe she will carry on the fight her husband waged on behalf of his district, I cast my ballot for his widow, Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings.
Elijah Cummings would have been furious to see his constituents serving in the military sent into harm’s way with no justification. He’d have vented his anger on behalf of the families and friends who will wring their hands with worry every time a shot is fired in the Middle East. Again flouting norms for no reason other than his own narcissism, President Trump cloaked his notification to Congress about the assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani under a security classification. Why? To prevent Americans from learning the reasons for the drone attack in Baghdad.
That is unprecedented in our history. From Franklin Roosevelt to Harry Truman, to John Kennedy to Lyndon Johnson, and Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush, presidents have explained their actions to the country whenever they initiated hostilities that put Americans at risk. Their explanations may have been partially refuted by subsequent events, but they all understood that in a republic, the government is ultimately responsible to its citizens.
Trump doesn’t think he’s responsible to anyone but himself, and that may be his most impeachable offense. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden got it right: “President Trump just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox, and he owes the American people an explanation of the strategy and plan to keep safe our troops and embassy personnel.”
Unfortunately, it’s not only our people in uniform and those who care about them who will directly affected by Trump’s decision. Every American is at risk. It’s quite telling that one of my neighbors in Maryland quipped that he was about to head south for the winter, and he was thankful to be getting his family away from the high risk target areas near the Capital. Equally telling is the reaction of many people where I’m wintering Florida that they’re relieved to be out of the line of fire.
If you don’t feel at risk it’s because you’re not thinking it through clearly. Iran has vowed to retaliate. Believe them. The Koran is as clear as the Old Testament about the virtues of revenge. Iran’s Foreign Minister said today that retaliation would be against American military interests. That’s the kind of measured response we’d take ourselves if, say, our Joint Chiefs Chairman had been assassinated by Iranian operatives. Not a great outcome, but one in line with diplomatic conventions.
President Trump, on the other hand, while claiming his intent is to prevent war and de-escalate has done exactly the opposite. Today, he tweeted a threat to attack Iranian cultural sites. That’s not only barbaric, a threat typical of ISIS and Hezbolah, it’s a war crime. You needn’t take the word of Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on that, Senator Chris Murphy was the first of several in Congress to say the same thing. United Nations resolution 2347 condemns “the unlawful destruction of cultural heritage, including the destruction of religious sites and artefacts [sic]…,” and the same prohibition exists in the Geneva Conventions.
Legality aside, Trump’s threat could be read by Iranian extremists as an invitation to do the same thing. If you haven’t considered the possibilities of who might be at risk, now is a good time to start. I spent weeks wrestling with this issue in writing my novel, Wednesday’s Child. Opening the door to attacking cultural sites is an irresponsible provocation to outright war. There’s no way to harden them all in a nation like ours, and it’s nearly impossible to predict where an enemy like the Quds force could strike.
How do you define a cultural site? The Statue of Liberty? The White House? The National Cathedral? What about Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, where 65,000 people will be watching the Super Bowl in a few weeks? That’s the kind of threat we face when our President’s ego gets in the way of common sense and he ignores his advisers.
This is exactly what we need to put a stop to at the ballot box next November. Trump’s unilateral, autocratic behavior puts every American at risk.