The High Stakes Gambler at the Helm

Alan Zendell, January 8, 2020

Donald Trump has described his negotiating style as gathering all the players in a room, tossing in a hand grenade, and then swooping in to close a deal before they know what hit them. That sometimes works in business, where the grenade is a metaphor for the threat of financial ruin, but as we’ve often noted, governing the United States of America is quite different than threatening people short on resources with lawsuits.

In his speech today, announcing in effect that his advisers had restrained him from his typical bellicose rhetoric, (the immediate giveaways were the teleprompters and the strained expression on his face that means he doesn’t believe a word he’s saying,) Trump commented that having all our powerful, deadly weapons doesn’t mean we have to use them. That’s very true and we should all be thankful that our generals keep his dangerous toys locked up where he can’t unilaterally play with them.

There’s a corollary to that statement which may be more important. The fact that his latest gamble didn’t lead to all-out war with Iran doesn’t mean it was a sensible risk. Most foreign leaders and most Americans viewed it as dangerously risky and inadvisable. It’s impossible to overstate this. Trump is a gambler. He brags about it, but he’s spent most of his life gambling with other people’s money and leaving a trail of financial ruin in his wake. He’s lost millions in court-ordered settlements and relied on bankruptcy laws to assure that other people bore the brunt of his bad business decisions.

It’s important to look at why we’re not at war with Iran today. Trump and his supporters will tell us that it was his threats to unleash all that weaponry on Iran that prevented war, but I don’t believe it. Iran’s leaders, who Trump likes to characterize as irrational religious fanatics, showed themselves to be level-headed and sophisticated in choosing how to respond to the killing of General Suleimani.

Look back a couple of days and ask yourself how likely it was that we’d be where we are today. With every overpaid pundit predicting what actions Iran would take, did anyone expect them to react with the surgical precision that displayed their military capabilities without harming a single American or Iraqi? They found the only pathway that could lead to today’s outcome. The Iranian military was like a quarterback threading a desperate pass through a crowd of defenders with the game on the line, and they played it out expertly.

Fortunately for all of us, we’ve seen this movie before, but most Americans aren’t old enough to remember. On October 28, 1962, we were at the end game after two weeks of playing nuclear chicken with the Soviet Union over medium-range missiles in Cuba. Much has been written since about the Kennedy administration’s flawed diplomacy and lack of understanding of the Russian mentality. I’ve always believed it was Nikita Khrushchev who saved the world from nuclear chaos and destruction that day. When the chips were down, the world needed an adult in the room when everyone else was losing it.

The Iranian regime is hateful and determined, but what we learned this week was that they’re neither insane nor suicidal. That means they can be reasoned with. It means that chants of “Death to America” have no more substance or value than Donald Trump’s and Kim Jong Un’s threats and bluster. Trump’s belligerence has done nothing to ease the problem of North Korea, and I don’t believe it had any effect on the Iranians. They understood perfectly that in an all-out war Iran would be destroyed. The rest of the world might be too, but it’s certain that Iran wouldn’t survive it.

We got out of this whole for the time being, but we were lucky, and as Yogi Berra might have said, it ain’t over til it’s over. To the president, I say, if you want to gamble everything you own after you’re out of office, that’s your business. But when you gamble with the lives of every American, it’s OUR business. I doubt that anyone was surprised that Trump took the extreme step of assassinating a high-ranking official of another country’s government to distract from his impeachment and re-election problems. He’s as dangerous as a cornered rat.

Suleimani was a bad guy who might have suffered the same fate at the hands of the World Court, but that’s the whole point, isn’t it? It’s why we have lynch laws. Trump is only a president not a judge or an emperor.

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