America can’t go to war behind a president who can’t be trusted

Nobody should mourn the death of Gen. Qassem Soleimani. He had it coming. But where will this lead? We are led by a morally rudderless president who’s only north star is his own re-election.

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Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. military drone attack early on Friday morning.

Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. military drone attack early on Friday morning.

AP Photos

T
his is the crisis we feared.

Our nation finds itself on the brink of war and we can’t trust our own president.

There is no doubt Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian general killed in an American drone strike on Thursday, was a lethal enemy of the United States, responsible for the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of U.S. soldiers and personnel in the Middle East.

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There also is no doubt Iran has taken a series of bellicose actions in recent months that demanded a firm American response.

Iran has stepped up efforts to develop nuclear weapons, almost certainly was behind missile attacks on oil tankers, and likely was behind a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base last week that killed an American contractor.

Living in the age of Trump

In normal times our nation might rally behind a president who said enough is enough and ordered the strike that killed Soleimani, especially if we were told it was a defensive measure. The Defense Department issued a statement saying Soleimani was “actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.”

But we don’t live in normal times. We live in the age of Donald Trump, a president who can’t be trusted to tell the truth about anything and who has demonstrated a willingness to subvert our nation’s interests in favor of his own. He has gathered around him a collection of aides — perhaps including the writer of that Defense Department statement — willing to help rewrite reality for him.

This is precisely why the House impeached Trump.

In a dangerous world, the American people must be able to trust that their president will always do what’s best — by his or her lights — for our country. Yet Trump, as his self-serving withholding of military aid to Ukraine made clear, can’t be trusted at all.

We would like to believe Trump proceeded prudently and carefully this week in deciding to take out Soleimani. But Trump does nothing prudently or appropriately. He falls for easy flattery and lashes out like a child.

We would like to believe the Trump administration gamed out the consequences of assassinating the second most powerful person in Iran. How might Iran retaliate? What would be the risks and gains to Israel, the Middle East and the United States?

But it’s not Trump’s way to work through possible consequences. Instead, he just tweets.

Trump’s lack of understanding about the consequences of his actions was on display at an appearance at his Mar-a-Lago resort on Friday afternoon. He urged Iran not to retaliate, as if there’s any chance in the world Iran will not.

We would like to believe the Trump administration gamed out the consequences of assassinating the second most powerful person in Iran. How might Iran retaliate? What would be the risks and gains to Israel, the Middle East and the United States? But it’s not Trump’s way to work through possible consequences. Instead, he just tweets.

Creating a distraction

Ever since it became clear that Trump betrayed our nation’s best interests in his dealings with Ukraine, the legitimate fear has been that he might someday order up military action abroad to distract from his problems at home. Nothing in the man’s character says he’s above it.

Nobody should mourn Soleimani’s death. He had it coming. The worry now, though, is where this might lead. We may be in for an escalation of violence abroad, even open warfare, at a time when our nation is led by a morally rudderless president whose only north star is his own re-election.

Here’s what’s going to happen next:

Trump’s Republican apologists will wave the flag and call on the nation to rally around the president as he confronts Iran. They will present this as a new argument for gutting the impeachment proceedings.

They will question the patriotism of Trump’s critics and say impeachment only gives strength to our enemies.

And they will be exactly wrong.

Impeachment matters more

Precisely because Trump has jacked up the conflict with Iran, the need to remove him from office is clearer than ever.

If our nation is to be led into war again — against Iran or any other nation — it must be by a president whose integrity and motives we can trust.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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