Shad Jeffrey II: Iran and the legacy of Donald Trump

Thursday, January 9, 2020 - 1:22pm

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In the wake of Qasem Soleimani’s death and the responding remarks made by Iranian officials, many Americans are scared for what’s coming next. Articles are speculating on the looming threat of World War III, and social media is being flooded with content about selective service and the mobilization of the American war machine.

 

This may be the realization of the risk involved in electing President Donald Trump to office. The nightmare of the brash businessman recklessly waging war and the interests of the American people against a foreign power has come to fruition. Seemingly, launching America into yet another war in the Middle East will become Trump's legacy as his term comes to a close.

 

This stands to be contested, as it is difficult to hypothesize about events we aren’t certain will occur at all. The question remains: Will going to war in Iran help or hurt Trump’s chance of being reelected?

 

Immediately, I want to think it will hurt Trump’s chances. Provoking a foreign power in a region that many within the United States believe we shouldn’t be intervening in at all won’t translate to more votes at the polling stations. Starting a war has to be Trump’s last straw, right?

 

It is not that simple to say, as supporters of Trump’s regime nearly seem to be blindly loyal to his actions. The effect entering into war with Iran would have on Trump’s presidency is so contingent on how events unfold that it’s difficult to speculate on what will happen. After all, there is no certainty to the events or duration of this hypothetical war. If war is avoided, is that a testament to Trump’s White House? If war is successful and short-lived, then is that a testament to the strength of the Commander in Chief? 

 

Per an article published by the New York Times discussing the exchange of threats between the U.S. and Iran, it is possible that Trump may have taken action against the Iranian General in order to distract from the impeachment proceedings occurring stateside. Congress returned from a long holiday break with the conversation diverted toward the new and seemingly more important issue of military action. It seems Trump’s involvement in Iran has been a successful ploy to get Congress and the media off of his back about impeachment.

 

In fact, Trump repeatedly accused former President Barack Obama of doing exactly this in 2011. In an article for CNN, Andrew Kacynski states, “In media appearances prior to the 2012 election, Trump repeatedly predicted that Obama would start a war with Iran in order to win re-election.” Kacynski explains that the drone strike on Soleimani is a way of waging war with Iran, and that in doing so, Trump can distract the American public from other issues surrounding his administration as we get settled into election season.

 

Given this, it would seem that Trump saw the logic behind the motivation he suspected from Obama. With Trump’s administration being at risk of losing office, it would seem that starting a war with Iran could potentially bolster nationalism and a sense of strength in the executive branch, as well as distract from the impeachment proceedings facing Trump.

 

It's difficult to believe starting a war would increase the popularity of a president who is already widely contested. While it may be Trump’s intention to levy support through war, it's not certain it will play out according to plan. However, Trump remains untested during war time (a quality that I prefer the president to keep throughout their term), and thus the world may meet General Trump for the first time: results TBD.

 

Ultimately, Trump’s escalation of the tension between Iran and the U.S. will hurt him during the election cycle because his actions are so unwarranted. Trump isn’t going to bolster a high approval rating for waging war with Iran because the action against Iran comes as such a shock to both Congress and the American people, and it isn’t in response to a clear, defined event or issue. Whether this conflict progresses into full-blown war or not, Trump’s outward actions of hostility and the provoking of a foreign power may not translate into the votes he wants come November.

 

Shad Jeffrey II can be reached at shadj@umich.edu.