War as Political Stagecraft

On October 26, 1973, naively, I was shocked to hear Marvin Kalb of CBS News tell President Nixon, “There has been some line of speculation this morning, that the American [military] alert might have been prompted as much perhaps by American domestic requirements as by the real requirements of diplomacy in the Middle East.”

Kalb was challenging the President whether he had staged a worldwide American military alert to quiet domestic political troubles. Six days earlier Nixon had fired Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox in the Saturday Night Massacre. I did not notice Nixon’s response to Kalb, but he clung to office under the heat of impeachment 9 more months.

Déjà vu?

If apparently truthsaying Presidents such as FDR can commit whoppers, e.g., Yalta was not a sell-out of Poland to Stalin, (see Eric Alterman’s “When Presidents lie: A history of official deception and its consequences“), is there any reason not to be cynical about war-making by President Trump, who lies about even silly things such as how big is his crowd size?

Prevaricator Donald J. Trump’s fibs have used mostly soft instruments such as twitter, not other people, and not instruments of hard power. U. S. Representative Devin Nunes’ caper on the White House grounds is an exception. Now it appears that the boy President has graduated to a bigger playground.

What is so politically well tuned in Trump’s missile attack on Al Shayrat airfield, in ostensible response to Syrian President Bassar Al-Assad’s poison gassing of babies and children (which didn’t bother stagecrafter Trump before he was in the hot seat), is that his two strongest critics in the GOP, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham are doing a 180. They are applauding Trump.

As a bonus, Trump’s missile attack may have sanitized his bromance problem with the former KGB guy. But real chessmasters do not get into a situation–such as a war in the Middle East–without a way out.

Trump’s bombing attack is the event we should all have been afraid of. History’s lessons are clear. Americans rallied around weak President George W. Bush after 9/11, and supported his deceiving the U.S. into War in Iraq, and his reelection. President Johnson lied the U.S. into the Vietnam War over the Tonkin Gulf, neutralizing Barry Goldwater snapping at his heels on Communism. And which assured Johnson’s 1964 election victory.  And, I speculate, may have strengthened Johnson’s hand in keeping Bobby Kennedy off the ticket in the Democratic Convention 22 days later.

Three weeks ago, Colbert King worried about fake war, “What if Trump, under intense pressure from all sides on Russia, decides to shift the focus to his commander-in-chief role and orders a shift in our military posture in response to a manufactured foreign crisis?”

We’ve been here for centuries. Shakespeare had Henry IV  say,

“Be it thy course to busy giddy minds
With foreign quarrels; that action, hence borne out,
May waste the memory of the former days.”
I am not cynical. Just realistic.