How Donald Trump Successfully Wagged the Dog, and More

Although I have never seen Donald Trump with a pet, I do believe that he wagged the dog when he ordered the assassination of the Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. The expression “wag the dog” comes from a 1997 film satire in which a president, caught up in a sex scandal, uses a war to divert attention from his peccadillo. It was released at about the time of the Monica Lewinsky/ President Clinton scandal and later U.S. bombing in Sudan. In Trump’s case, he more than wagged the dog. By ratcheting up tensions with Iran, he also increased his stature as commander-in-chief to the detriment of Democratic candidates and reinforced his image as a rogue head of state.

That Donald Trump had the Iranian general killed to minimize his impeachment cannot be proven or denied. Nevertheless, U.S. government officials continue to seek justification for the killing of a foreign government official on foreign soil with all kinds of shaky explanations of why it was done to counter an imminent danger that has never been convincingly explained. No legal justification seems reasonable. In fact, a State Department spokesperson indicated that no legal justification was even necessary.

So, given that there seems no reasonable legal justification, the wag the dog theory has possibilities.

But beyond the wag the dog theory, there is also the question of what it means for Trump’s Democratic opponents. Can you see Elizabeth Warren as commander-in-chief? Or Bernie Sanders? Neither Warren nor Sanders gains by the projection of Trump as a decisive military leader in case the conflict with Iran escalates, perhaps Bernie less so as he repeatedly reminds us that he has been against wars going back to Vietnam.

And Mayor Pete? Although Buttigieg did serve in the military, the 37-year-old was an intelligence officer and armed driver. Neither of these positions indicate that he would have the necessary experience or command authority in case of a serious confrontation with the Islamic Republic.

Which leads us to Joe Biden. Although Trump and others maintain that Biden would be Trump’s most serious opponent, the former vice-president has no military background. Given that the Democratic party is usually considered soft on defense, and that Biden was an agreeing vice-president under a president who refused to assassinate Soleimani or punish Syria when the red line of using chemical weapons was crossed, for a certain electorate Trump trumps Biden as being decisive and strong.

In addition, Biden was whole heartedly in favor of the Iraq War, which he has since had to explain away, just as he has had to explain away how he ran the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination process. After announcing his candidacy in 2019, Biden reportedly called Anita Hill to “express his regrets.” Not the stuff of a decisive leader that seems to be the new normal as a Trumpian criteria.

And beyond U.S. politics, the world now looks at the United States president as a madman. The madman theory goes back to Richard Nixon’s foreign policy. While government officials use rational choice theory to anticipate the next moves of other countries’ leaders, the madman theory tries to portray a leader as irrational and volatile, giving that leader the advantage of being difficult to predict.

The media tells us that Trump was given a list of Iranian scenarios to choose from. The assassination, we are told, was the most radical. Some even said that the planners hesitated to give it to Trump because they thought he would never accept it. In other words, for the people within the government, assassinating Soleimani was not a reasonable choice. Hence, the order to go ahead with the assassination plays into portraying Trump as impulsive, which is meant to throw off other countries’ calculations of what he will do.

The descriptions of the behind-the-scene of Trump’s order to kill is intended to put all rational formula on hold. The madman theory fits perfectly into all we are being given as information about Trump’s decision-making process.

(Perhaps Soleimani’s death will also lead people to re-examine the decision-making process by which U.S. presidents order assassinations. And this not just as far as Executive vs. Congressional authority is concerned as well as the War Powers Act. What criteria did Barack Obama use when he fingered people to be killed by U.S. agents? The major difference here is that Trump ordered a government official to be killed while Obama, we are told, was targeting mere civilians.)

The movie “Wag the Dog” was a satire. But just as the virtual has become real and the normal has become the new normal, Donald Trump has taken the political beyond film and satire. And he doesn’t even need a pet to wag the dog.

More articles by:

Daniel Warner is the author of An Ethic of Responsibility in International Relations. (Lynne Rienner). He lives in Geneva.

July 09, 2020
Richard D. Wolff
COVID-19 Exposes the Weakness of a Major Theory Used to Justify Capitalism
Ahrar Ahmad
Racism in America: Police Choke-Holds Are Not the Issue
Timothy M. Gill
Electoral Interventions: a Suspiciously Naïve View of U.S. Foreign Policy in the Post-Cold War World
Daniel Falcone
Cold War with China and the Thucydides Trap: a Conversation with Richard Falk
Daniel Beaumont
Shrink-Wrapped: Plastic Pollution and the Greatest Economic System Jesus Ever Devised
Prabir Purkayastha
The World Can Show How Pharma Monopolies Aren’t the Only Way to Fight COVID-19
Gary Leupp
“Pinning Down Putin” Biden, the Democrats and the Next War
Howard Lisnoff
The Long Goodbye to Organized Religion
Cesar Chelala
The Dangers of Persecuting Doctors
Mike Garrity – Erik Molvar
Back on the List: A Big Win for Yellowtone Grizzlies and the Endangered Species Act, a Big Loss for Trump and Its Enemies
Purusottam Thakur
With Rhyme and Reasons: Rap Songs for COVID Migrants
Binoy Kampmark
Spiked Concerns: The Melbourne Coronavirus Lockdown
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela is on a Path to Make Colonialism Obsolete
George Ochenski
Where are Our Political Leaders When We Really Need Them?
Dean Baker
Is it Impossible to Envision a World Without Patent Monopolies?
William A. Cohn
Lead the Way: a Call to Youth
July 08, 2020
Laura Carlsen
Lopez Obrador’s Visit to Trump is a Betrayal of the U.S. and Mexican People
Melvin Goodman
Afghanistan: What is to be Done?
Thomas Klikauer – Norman Simms
The End of the American Newspaper
Sonali Kolhatkar
The Merits of Medicare for All Have Been Proven by This Pandemic
David Rosen
It’s Now Ghislaine Maxwell’s Turn
Nicolas J S Davies
Key U.S. Ally Indicted for Organ Trade Murder Scheme
Bob Lord
Welcome to Hectobillionaire Land
Laura Flanders
The Great American Lie
John Kendall Hawkins
Van Gogh’s Literary Influences
Marc Norton
Reopening vs. Lockdown is a False Dichotomy
Joel Schlosberg
“All the Credit He Gave Us:” Time to Drop Hamilton’s Economics
CounterPunch News Service
Tribes Defeat Trump Administration and NRA in 9th Circuit on Sacred Grizzly Bear Appeal
John Feffer
The US is Now the Global Public Health Emergency
Nick Licata
Three Books on the 2020 Presidential Election and Their Relevance to the Black Live Matter Protests
Elliot Sperber
The Breonna Taylor Bridge
July 07, 2020
Richard Eskow
The War on Logic: Contradictions and Absurdities in the House’s Military Spending Bill
Daniel Beaumont
Gimme Shelter: the Brief And Strange History of CHOP (AKA CHAZ)
Richard C. Gross
Trump’s War
Patrick Cockburn
Trump’s Racism May be Blatant, But the Culture He Defends Comes Out of the Civil War and Goes Well Beyond Racial Division
Andrew Stewart
Can We Compare the George Floyd Protests to the Vietnam War Protests? Maybe, But the Analogy is Imperfect
Walden Bello
The Racist Underpinnings of the American Way of War
Nyla Ali Khan
Fallacious Arguments Employed to Justify the Revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s Autonomy and Its Bifurcation
Don Fitz
A Statue of Hatuey
Dean Baker
Unemployment Benefits Should Depend on the Pandemic
Ramzy Baroud – Romana Rubeo
Will the ICC Investigation Bring Justice for Palestine?
Sam Pizzigati
Social Distancing for Mega-Million Fun and Profit
Dave Lindorff
Private: Why the High Dudgeon over Alleged Russian Bounties for Taliban Slaying of US Troops
George Wuerthner
Of Fire and Fish
Binoy Kampmark
Killing Koalas: the Promise of Extinction Down Under