Donald Trump has a problem.
The targeted killing of Qassem Soleimani has opened Pandora’s box and brought the U.S. to the brink of another impossible conflict in the Middle East.
That’s where things get really tricky for the 45th president of the United States, and for Americans as a whole.
If Trump must ultimately lead his country to war, if he must convince his people of the need to once again spill blood, spend billions and unleash untold chaos, he’ll have to make a convincing case. And he’ll have to do it all by himself.
Trump has made the presidency a singularity. It is a black hole from which no other voices escape. It is a one-man show, where people are hired and fired, and decisions are taken solely by the man at the top. Trump reminds us of that fact on a daily basis.
His tweets and statements are focused on his power and his supposed expertise and decisiveness. He claims to “know more … than almost anybody” about a dizzying array of subjects.
He also claims to be the only person who can fix America’s ills.
“Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it,” said Trump in accepting the Republican nomination in 2016.
He has made it clear, it’s all on him — at least when things are going well.
Except that while Trump was talking up his power and prowess, he was simultaneously shattering his own credibility into thousands of little pieces — 15,413 pieces, to be exact.
That is the number of “false or misleading claims” Trump has made since taking the oath of office, according to the Washington Post.
Trump’s various claims about the size of his inauguration crowd (largest in history!), how Ukraine — not Russia — interfered in the 2016 election and the “total exoneration” from the Mueller report have added up to make virtually any presidential utterance questionable.
REALITY CHECK: Did Iran put an $80M bounty on Trump’s head? No
The end result is that no matter how true Trump’s words may be about, say, a war or national crisis, there are tens of millions of people who will simply not trust him. Not now, not ever.
A Gallup poll found that just 34 per cent of Americans consider the president to be “honest and trustworthy.”
The Iran crisis has arrived after years of bombardment by Trump-speak.
Maybe the intelligence that justified the killing of Soleimani was good, and perhaps there was some imminent threat to American lives that has been eliminated along with Soleimani.
But who would believe Trump now? The mistruths and half-truths and absurdities alone are a problem, but Trump has actually made things uniquely worse with regard to the exact situation he now faces.
He has gone out of his way to discredit the actual experts whom he must now lean on to justify a targeted killing or to sell whatever happens next with Iran. He alone has to make the case because there’s no one left to make it for him.
In between the resignations, firings and quiet departures of experienced military and political leaders, Trump and his cohorts have spent the last three years vociferously claiming there’s a “deep state” conspiracy to undermine him and that U.S. intelligence agencies simply can’t be trusted.
The president has also made a habit of rejecting the assessments of his own experts when the information they provide him is inconvenient.
When the CIA concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, Trump was reportedly skeptical and looked for ways to avoid blaming the Crown prince. Trump has ignored the findings of his own intelligence agencies when it comes to Russian interference in the election that propelled him to office.
During the impeachment inquiry, Trump worked to discredit career diplomats, some of whom he appointed, simply because he didn’t like what they had to say.
Now Trump faces the prospect of having to rely on statements from those intelligence agencies to justify what he has already done, or plans to do, with regard to Iran.
Trump’s backers at Fox News, who’ve helped sell the supposed “deep state” conspiracy, suddenly wonder why the public won’t just accept intelligence claims about Iran at face value. Imagine that.
Americans are already wary of being dragged into another Middle East war after the debacle of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which was based on faulty intelligence. Trump had that working against him before he ever uttered a single word or fired a single shot.
As he has escalated tensions with Iran, withdrawn from the nuclear agreement and opened up the single most difficult foreign policy crisis he has ever faced, he has done nothing to bolster public faith.
The president has claimed you can’t trust anyone else while making it painfully obvious to many that you can’t trust him.
The result is that Trump may have already lost the battle for public opinion, just as he faces the prospect of an all-consuming war.
Jackson Proskow is the Washington bureau chief for Global National.