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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Surprising No One, Trump Blames Iran on Obama

The Daily Escape:

Hanging Lake Valley, CO – 2019 photo by henhooks

Circling back to Trump’s “standing down” speech, it seems like it was an exercise in gas lighting. Trump spoke for less than ten minutes, standing in front of his generals, who remained expressionless as he spoke. Occasionally, he seemed short of breath. Obviously he had a lot on his mind, but he sure didn’t look like someone refreshed from a two-week vacation.

This observation from the indispensable Marcy Wheeler captures the moment:

“Trump just pre-blamed Barack Obama for the failures most experts predict and have correctly predicted will come from Trump’s Iran policy. He suggests, falsely, that the current escalation is the result of Obama’s peace deal, rather than the demonstrable result of his suspension of it.”

Wrongo’s conservative friends repeat the lie that Obama sent planes full of American cash to Iran. They may be conflating the Iran deal with Iraq in 2003, when GW Bush sent them $12 billion in hundred dollar bills. That’s 363 tons of $ hundreds that disappeared almost immediately.

We know that Obama didn’t “pay” Iran $150 billion for the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal. The deal, approved by China, France, Germany, Russia, UK, and the US, involved the release of $ billions of Iran’s assets, frozen after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, in exchange for the end of Iran’s nuclear weapons development. The NYT reports that, after Iran paid its debts, it had between $32 billion and $50 billion left.

Trump and the GOP always try to shirk responsibility for their actions, and yesterday, they blamed the Democrats. Trump and the GOP:

  • Blamed Obama’s successful nuclear deal for what has happened after Trump’s rejection of it
  • Claimed Trump couldn’t brief Democrats on the Soleimani assassination because the Dems couldn’t be trusted to keep the news a secret
  • Suggested that Democrats’ impeachment of Trump has hurt his ability to respond to the very crisis he created by killing Soleimani

Trump’s blame shifting tactics are particularly toxic because his policies are likely to fail. The only way Trump can sustain support while presiding over these preventable failures is to blame someone else, like the Democrats, and the Iranians in this case.

And the only way for him to continue to follow his failing policies is to pretend he’s not the cause of the failure.

That’s the Republican playbook. They haven’t been the party of personal responsibility for a long time. They just pretend they are. Did Nixon take responsibility for Watergate? Think of Reagan blowing up the debt with his tax cuts and violating the Constitution with his Iran Contra scheme. Or Bush 1st lying about being out of the loop on Iran Contra. Then came Bush 2nd and Cheney who refused to listen to warnings that Bin Laden was going to attack us, and then using that attack as an excuse to go to war with Iraq.

Like Trump, none of them ever took personal responsibility for their lies and incompetence.

Trump’s excuse for not briefing the Gang of Eight is particularly worrisome. They are the leaders of both Parties from both the Senate and House, and the chairs and ranking minority members of both the Senate and House Committees for intelligence. The president is required to brief them on covert operations by law.

Apparently, Trump briefed Sen Lindsay Graham instead.

But Trump doesn’t want advice from people he doesn’t trust, and so he didn’t bother to brief the Gang of Eight before the Soleimani mission.

As we said yesterday, Trump owns this decision, and all of its consequences. That raises the political stakes in the run-up to the 2020 election, and makes it all-important for him to hedge his bet by finding scapegoats. It’s a feedback loop: Democrats, and Iranians can’t be right, they’re just disloyal, or traitors, or terrorists.

His behavior has become more impulsive as his mistakes have grown. His Party also shares full responsibility for them. But today’s GOP is about making up their own reality, blaming others for problems, and saying more tax cuts for the rich and corporations will paper over whatever problems they create. This is totally on the Republicans, and they will never stop of their own accord.

This will persist until the rest of us take action to change the arc of our politics.

It’s also on any Democrats who decide to let them slide, either by excusing their actions, or by not voting in November.

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The GOP’s History of Non-Accountability

The Daily Escape:

St. Peters Basilica, Rome, Italy – photo via @archpics

(Wrongo and Ms. Right are ensconced in a 1791 colonial home in the middle of nowhere, Massachusetts. The house was a half way point and overnight stop on the Hartford CT to Albany NY stage coach in the early 1800’s. It was a way station on the Underground Railroad in the late 1850’s. Now it is a VRBO rental, mostly used by large family reunions, and our family qualifies.)

Did the Trump campaign ask for help, or were they merely the beneficiaries of Russia’s efforts in the 2016 presidential election? We won’t know for sure unless or until Robert Mueller’s investigation makes it into the public domain. But here in the Berkshires, Wrongo read a column by Dylan Matthews that places the possible Trump wrongdoing in an historical perspective with other GOP stalwarts like Richard Nixon. And not just Watergate, where Gerald Ford pardoned tricky Dicky, but more:

The reason is a culture of elite impunity, where…political leaders face absolutely no accountability for misdeeds….It encompasses many decades during which political officials have evaded accountability for broken laws and illicit foreign contacts, and business and corporate elites have skirted punishment for outright fraud. It’s a problem that, ironically, Trump hammered home in the campaign: that there’s a different set of rules for elites than for normal people. It just happens that Trump knows that because he, for decades now, has been taking advantage of elite impunity.

Matthews makes the point that the Russia scandal reminds us that a presidential candidate has collaborated with a foreign government against the American government before, and gotten away with it:

In the summer of 1968…Republican nominee Richard Nixon and his aides actively sabotaged efforts by Lyndon Johnson’s administration to negotiate an end to the Vietnam War. They got away with it, prolonging a war that wound up killing more than a million people in the process.

As Matthews says, this is part of a larger, longstanding and troubling trend of Republican non-accountability:

It wasn’t even two decades later that the next Republican administration conspired with a foreign government…Iran’s. This time, the actions weren’t just horrendously immoral but illegal as well; elongating the Vietnam War was, alas, not a crime, but funding the Contras with Iranian arms deal money was. So was lying to Congress about it. Fourteen members of Reagan’s administration were indicted, and 11 were convicted.

It didn’t end there:

Before leaving office, President George H.W. Bush pardoned six people…all high-ranking policy officials like Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams….National Security Council official Oliver North and National Security Adviser John Poindexter had, at that point, already gotten their convictions tossed out, not because they were innocent but due to a complication resulting from Congress giving them immunity to testify.

Matthews quotes Lawrence Walsh, the independent counsel who investigated Iran-Contra:

What set Iran-Contra apart from previous political scandals was the fact that a cover-up engineered in the White House of one president and completed by his successor prevented the rule of law from being applied to the perpetrators of criminal activity of constitutional dimension.

Many of the Iran-Contra perpetrators remain on the scene in Washington. Poindexter ran George W. Bush’s Information Awareness Office. Elliott Abrams, who had other transgressions under Reagan, when he supported El Salvador’s military dictatorship, worked as a National Security Council official for George W. Bush.

GW Bush had dozens of policymakers who lied about WMD. They systematically violated US law forbidding torture. Consider Abu Ghraib, where low-level soldiers and officers were court-martialed, while the people responsible for the policy, John Yoo and Jay Bybee, got off scott-free.

And Democrats weren’t above non-accountability. Obama didn’t prosecute Bush officials about the Iraq WMD lies. He didn’t prosecute CIA officials who tortured. Obama’s administration didn’t bring charges against Jose Rodriguez, who authorized the destruction of 92 tapes showing the CIA torturing detainees. Gina Haspel, who Rodriguez has said drafted the order to destroy the tapes, and who ran a CIA black site for torture in Thailand, is now the director of the CIA. Obama’s Department of Justice was notoriously lax with Wall Street. Once, Obama’s White House counsel Kathy Ruemmler jokingly asked Deputy AG Lanny Breuer, “How many cases are you dismissing this week?”

Matthews closes:

With that history — with such a clear record that…political officials involved in criminal activity and illicit deals with foreign powers will ever face any consequences — why on earth wouldn’t someone like Trump, a man who lacks any willingness to sacrifice his self-interest in order to do the right thing, work with Russia?

So both parties have contributed to this culture of permitting wrong conduct without consequences.

The possible implications for the Mueller investigation is frightening. At what point will bringing prosecutions be impossible because the GOP office holder will simply yell “partisan witch hunt“, and have one-third of America agree without seeing the evidence?

And will the bad guys simply wait for the next GOP president and get pardoned?

Unless we’re willing to fight that system, many more Republicans will evade accountability in the future.

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