What is Donald Trump’s strategy? By the look of things he has just one agenda: himself.
An impeached president — indicted for soliciting foreign interference in this year’s US presidential election to help his re-election bid — taking out one of the most influential figures in the Middle East, sounds like the far-fetched script of a Hollywood blockbuster.
But this isn’t fiction thought up by an over-imaginative producer. It’s the real world. Donald Trump’s world.
Welcome to 2020.
Emulating the repulsively gloating response to the US’s killing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in October 2019, Trump has been ‘bigging up’ the ordering of the killing of General Qasem Soleimani, which resulted in the Iranian commander being blown up in an airstrike on a Baghdad airport.
In press conferences following the US airstrike, President Trump has repeatedly referred to General Soleimani as a ‘monster’ and said that killing him was ‘a good thing’, adding, that he is ‘no longer a monster because he’s dead’.
Whether the killing of one of the most senior commanders in Iran, which took place without congressional approval or debate, is a ‘good thing’ has been the subject of bitter dispute since the incident took place on January 3, 2020.
Trump claims the strike was meant to head off an imminent attack on Americans and that it was motivated by retribution following violent protests at the US Embassy in Baghdad and the death of a US contactor at an Iraqi military base.
Even if it was an attempt to disrupt a terror threat, the action has created a political storm with fears escalating that the killing could lead to war.
Iran’s aggressive and retaliatory response to the attack, which involved the launch of more than a dozen missiles at two Iraqi bases that hold US troops, substantiates fears that the killing of Qasem Soleimani will leave the US more vulnerable.
Making Trump’s actions in Iran even more disturbing is the fact that there are no obvious signs that the US President has a long-term strategy in place to mediate Iranian retaliations.
Rather than attempting to placate the political hysteria by assuring people there is a long-term strategy in place, in typical Trump style, the US President chooses to stay within the cowardly, untouchable confines of his Twitter feed, posting increasingly belligerent tweets.
Trump tweeted on January 5:
‘These Media Posts will serve as notification to the United States Congress that should Iran strike any U.S. person or target, the United States will quickly & fully strike back, & perhaps in a disproportionate manner’.
It could be argued that the more definitive strategy on Trump’s agenda when he ordered the killing of the top Iranian commander, was to help him secure a second presidential term.
On Facebook, a barrage of Trump re-election campaign ads have been touting the General’s death, alongside images of a beaming Trump during a campaign rally. The campaign ads encourage voters to take part in the ‘Official Trump Military Survey’, which directs them to his re-election campaign website.
Users who submit the survey are also prompted to make a donation to the re-election campaign, encouraged by a message that reads:
‘President Trump is keeping AMERICA SAFE! Now it’s time to step up and stand behind him’.
As the New York Times notes, as of January 7, there had been around 800 Facebook ads for the Trump re-election campaign devoted entirely to the killing of General Soleimani.
Will Trump’s tactics to exploit the killing of Soleimani to garner support and praise from the American people ahead of November’s presidential election pay off or backfire?
Historically, a US president who has been faced with a crisis in foreign policy, has rallied a short-term boost in public support.
During the Gulf War in the early 1990s, George H.W. Bush experienced what’s known as a ‘rally around the flag’ effect, which sees a president receive a temporary boost in public support during times of international crisis or war.
In the aftermath of 9/11 and the subsequent bombing of Afghanistan, George W. Bush had a surge in approval ratings.
In relation to the airstrike that killed Qasem Soleimani, a poll shows the public to be narrowly in favour of the attack. The survey, compiled by the HuffPost and YouGov, shows that 43 per cent of Americans approve of the decision to order the drone attack; 38 per cent disapprove; and 19 per cent remain unsure.
Trump’s supporters are more unified in their approval over the President’s ordering of the attack, with 84 per cent of Republicans or Republican-leaning independents commending the strikes. This compares to 71 per cent of Democrats, or Democrat-leaning independents, who disapprove of the attack.
However, the poll also shows that Americans have doubts about Trump’s overall Iran strategy, his decision-making process, and the possible repercussions over the airstrike. Fifty-seven per cent of Americans say they think the killing will make military conflict between Iran and the US more likely, with just 8 per cent believing it will act as a deterrent.
On December 18, 2019, Trump was impeached by the House Democrats. This asserted that he had abused his power by pressuring Ukraine to help him in the 2020 presidential election.
In the impeachment report, it was found that Trump had ‘placed his own personal political interests above the national interests of the United States’.
As we saw in what acted as a catalyst for getting Trump impeached, the president will stop at little to win a second presidential term.
Trump rarely makes major moves without calculating the impact they will have on his popularity and self-image.
According to White House officials and several senior Republicans, by ordering the killing of one of the most powerful figures in the Middle East, Trump believes he will heighten his support amongst voters who will view him as a wartime commander-in-chief while he denounces his Democratic critics as being soft on terrorism.
Beset by the impeachment scandal and the political outrage over the drone attack at Bagdad airport, Trump’s supporters are rallying around their embattled president.
Both controversies could prove to be a fundraising boon during the presidential campaign and, in uniting people behind him, Trump will probably secure his second term.
Winning a second term at the White House seems to be Trump’s only long-term strategy. And he’ll stop at nothing to achieve it.