Thursday, May 09, 2019


There's been speculation that President Trump might start a war, in either Iran or Venezuela, in order to boost his reelection chances. But The Washington Post tells us that Trump prefers not to use military force in Venezuela, in part because war is hard:
President Trump is questioning his administration’s aggressive strategy in Venezuela following the failure of a U.S.-backed effort to oust President Nicolás Maduro, complaining he was misled about how easy it would be to replace the socialist strongman with a young opposition figure, according to administration officials and White House advisers.

The president’s dissatisfaction has crystallized around national security adviser John Bolton and what Trump has groused is an interventionist stance at odds with his view that the United States should stay out of foreign quagmires....

U.S. defense leaders regard any military scenario involving boots on the ground in Venezuela as a quagmire.... The White House has repeatedly asked for military planning short of an invasion, however.
Trump sometimes talk like an anti-interventionist, but he's also fantasized out loud about wanting to "bomb the shit out of" this or that enemy. Trump is certainly war-curious, at least in theory. But here's his idea of how a war ought to go:
1. BOOM!
2. Trump wins.
3. Trump gets a parade.
At the risk of sounding like Glenn Greenwald, I'll acknowledge that Trump's opposition to quagmires is not a bad thing. But I don't regard it as a moral stance. I assume Trump believes that a quagmire -- defined by him as any war that goes on longer than a Hollywood war movie -- would make him look weak. Struggle in a foreign country is for losers. Instant total victory is for winners.

I may be wrong on this, but this belief system might be what prevents Trump from starting a shooting war with Iran.

Also, why would he feel he needs an election-season foreign war? Wars drive presidents to 90% approval ratings (at least temporarily) by unifying the country. But Trump doesn't want to unify the country. Trump just wants to fire up his base.

In effect, he's already started the two wars he expects to get him reelected: the war against Central American migrants and the war against Democrats who want to subject him to oversight. Those may not be quick wars either, but there are no soldiers knee-deep in rice paddies appearing as frustrated stand-ins for the president. Trump tweets, his lawyers sue, Trump moves troops to the border (but our side, not some stretch of land in a shithole country), Trump claims there's been tremendous new construction on the wall -- much better than a shooting war in a country Trump would never visit even in peacetime with a stable government.

I'll acknowledge that the war against migrants actually seems like the kind of quagmire Trump wants to avoid -- all those refugees in those tacky tents! But the war against Democrats is going much better for Trump, at least so far. He tweets, he stonewalls, his lawyers sue, his sycophants in the Republican House and Senate delegations parrot his talking points, and he unifies the base.

It may be working -- Trump's Real Clear Politics approval average of 45.1% is the highest it's been since 2017.

Foreign wars are complicated. Foreign countries are confusing (and, in Trump's eyes, probably dirty and filled with germs). Trump is fighting the wars he wants to ight.

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