The End of the Iran Deal Is Just the Start of 'America First'

The walk down to the White House’s press briefing room Tuesday seemed more like a study in Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” than a routine stroll. With the sun high in the sky and the weather comfortably in the mid-70s, it should’ve been a good day. But the air seemed thick, and the people seemingly moved in slow motion.

With no briefing planned for the day from the president’s press secretary, the press corps settled in the former swimming pool that houses our offices to hear President Donald Trump tell us he was pulling the country out of the “disastrous” Iranian deal—which ostensibly keeps Iran from building a nuclear bomb.Trump has never liked the deal. Some say that’s because former President Barack Obama’s administration crafted it, and Trump hates anything Obama did. However, Trump himself says the deal doesn’t address the problems of missiles, terrorism and other issues. True, it does not, but it was never meant to do so.

Still, Trump hates the “damn thing” as some of his staffers describe the deal, and has told us—without presenting any proof—that Iran is cheating. Mind you, the inspectors and our allies who also have signed on to it believe Iran is keeping to the letter of the deal. In spite of this, Trump, like President “Shrub” Bush before him did in Iraq, is intent on convincing the American public Iran is acting in bad faith.

After the president explained how the best-laid plans of mice and men determined he should go awry on the Iranian deal, the Iranians quickly told us all the Americans can’t be trusted and said they would continue to work with our European allies to ensure the Iranian deal stays in place.

Then the president trotted his new National Security Advisor John Bolton out into the press room to explain everything, and the thick, swollen atmosphere suddenly made sense. Bolton began his briefing invoking the ghost of Dean Acheson and told us all that we should “only negotiate from positions of strength,” while noting that, “it was a lesson the last administration did not follow.”

Acheson, the noted secretary of state to Harry Truman and one of the “Wise Men” who advised Lyndon Johnson, helped shape American policy from the Marshall Plan to pulling out of Vietnam. When I questioned him in the briefing, Bolton seemed to be incomplete in his knowledge of Acheson when he told me, “I don't think Dean was terribly involved in Vietnam, but go ahead.”

Nit-picking aside, the hawkish Bolton is seen as trying to pull a fast one and justify a war against Iran in the future. He told me anyone who sees Trump’s latest move as setting up a scenario in which the U.S. can put boots on the ground in Iran is “badly mistaken.”
We’ve not only risked becoming everything we’ve ever fought against, but we’re hurtling toward a despotic style of government with a reckless haste that should concern anyone who’s paying attention.
But the administration has no credibility in this area—any more so than any other president has had credibility when administrations have dragged the public by the nose into an imbroglio that screams for war. The U.S. government, since the Vietnam War and actually before that infamous debacle, has not been above lying in order to send young men and women to die in foreign lands. The current administration is not unique in its desire, dedication or execution of such a plan. It is a well-worn plan that always seems to work: Convince the American public our way of life is threatened and take us once more into the breach, dear friend, preferably right around election time so the administration gets re-elected.

It’s a shame when invoking Acheson’s name, Bolton didn’t remember a quote from Acheson I am fond of and one for which he should be more famous. He said he, “never for one moment believed that the holding of office was a source of power—it was an obligation of service."

Acheson was also one for consistency in government and honoring commitments. “There is perhaps nothing more important in the world today than the steadiness and consistency of the foreign policy of this Republic. Too much depends on the United States for us to indulge in the luxury of either undue pessimism or premature optimism."

Those words would be lost on Trump and his administration as today it is the wielding of power for its own sake that seems to be the interest of the U.S. government. We’ve not only risked becoming everything we’ve ever fought against, but we’re hurtling toward a despotic style of government with a reckless haste that should concern anyone who’s paying attention.

Of course, Trump is doing his very best to keep us from reporting on that whenever possible.

His announcement Wednesday morning that Mike Pompeo will be coming home with three Americans held by North Korea is welcome news, but, around the same time, the president tweeted out that he’d like to yank credentials of reporters who file reports he doesn’t like. His war with the press remains his biggest concern—especially with a narrow-minded base that sees “shooting the messenger” as not a metaphor, but an eventuality.

“Why do we work so hard in working with the media when it is corrupt?” Trump tweeted. There is not one speck of evidence to back up that sentiment. None. But the president is selling it because it furthers his agenda as he continues to erode our freedoms and our foundations of government. Trump is at war with his own Department of Justice. He calls the Mueller investigation a “Democratic witch hunt,” though it is headed by members of his own party. He declares journalists who report on these events “corrupt” in order to sow the seeds of doubt.

His poll numbers have risen, and his base sees this as justification for his actions. The ends justify the means for those who support the president.

But a historical reminder is in order here: Only Nixon could go to China. He had some amazing successes abroad and at home. But Watergate unraveled his presidency and left a cancerous stain that has spread across time to today’s presidency.

Trump can bring home people from North Korea. He can back out of the Paris Accords and the Iranian deal and, for a time, he may seem to be a solid player to some of us. But he cannot outrun nor put aside the Mueller investigation. As popular as Nixon still was when he was forced to resign, he still had to resign.

I do not predict Trump will go gentle into that good night.

The thick, humid “Comfortably Numb” atmosphere has me convinced he will stay, clutching at power and grasping at straws, insulting the press and anyone else he can while he throws everyone under the bus to maintain his control. But, in the end, I still believe justice will triumph—even if it takes until the 2020 presidential election to do it.

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