The New York Times' front-page from the Clinton presidency has striking similarities to the current state of affairs. Image: Supplied

Wag the Dog was released one month before the outbreak of the Lewinsky scandal and the subsequent bombing of the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Sudan by the Clinton administration in August 1998, which prompted the media to draw comparisons between the film and reality. The comparison was also made in December 1998 when the administration initiated a bombing campaign of Iraq during Clinton’s impeachment trial over the Lewinsky scandal.” – Wikipedia

If you haven’t seen Wag the Dog, check it out. Terrific Barry Levinson movie about a US president, seeking reelection, who faces scandal and is extricated with a war against Albania.

Only this is a fake war ginned up by a Hollywood producer. Robert DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman turn in masterful performances in the 1997 black comedy. Of course, the far more usual scenario in real life has been for a popularity-challenged leader to attack with real bullets – or drones.

Voters, being human beings, tend to love a good fight that focuses on tribal enmities. In peacetime, they’re left with pro wrestling bouts and football games, but many yearn for more.

Full disclosure: In a 2017 novel, Nuclear Blues, I anticipated that the current president would start a war. Is Donald Trump now, indeed, in the process of doing that, not against my fictional target, Honduras, but against Iran – a somewhat bigger fish?

Word of the killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Qasem Soleimani came at the end of the working day Thursday, US Eastern time – and Congress had not been notified in advance.

Thus, limiting the bounds of our possible research on this matter, there were no meetings of elected senators and/or representatives convened immediately to debate the question of whether Trump’s kill order had been (1) a wise, statesmanlike move, (2) bad foreign policy – or (3) a case of ignoring policy considerations while throwing red meat to a pack of easily excitable voters.

With little information available, my gut tells me to go for now with a combination of answer two, bad foreign policy on the part of Trump’s neoconservative advisers, and answer three, the total focus of Trump himself on what’s good for Trump – in this case avoiding removal from office either in a Senate impeachment trial or at the hands of voters.

It’s at times like this that citizens have been taught to look to social media, particularly Twitter, for guidance regarding the grave policy issues concerned.

Trump himself, as befitted a veteran reality TV star and wrasslin’ promoter, set the tone by tweeting an image of the American flag.

Check the box for encouraging nationalistic juices to flow freely. Recall the collective American decision in 2003 to shun an erstwhile ally – rubbing it in by changing the name of French fries to Freedom fries on the menus in three congressional cafeterias. That was meant as punishment of  the French for failing to go along with the George W Bush administration’s planned invasion of Iraq. (And how did that turn out?)

Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat from Connecticut, attempted to start a serious debate Thursday night. “Soleimani was an enemy of the United States,” he tweeted. “That’s not a question. The question is this – as reports suggest, did America just assassinate, without any congressional authorization, the second most powerful person in Iran, knowingly setting off a potential massive regional war?”

Other serious points Murphy raised on his Twitter feed:

“The justification for the assassination is to ‘deter future Iranian attacks.’ One reason we don’t generally assassinate foreign political officials is the belief that such action will get more, not less, Americans killed. That should be our real, pressing and grave worry tonight.”


“No one can claim to know with certainty what happens next. But the neocons thumping their chest tonight should recall that the worst mistakes global powers make are when they strike militarily in complicated places with few friends, with no consideration of the consequences.”

As we can see from his pointed reference to neocon chest-thumping, by the time of Murphy’s third big tweet of the evening discussion on the thread had largely degenerated into a non-conversation.

Twitterati in large numbers had sought to frame the events of the day historically, in the hyper-partisan, anti-Obama, anti-Hillary Clinton terms Republicans had adopted in responding to the fate of Americans caught in Islamic militants’ attacks on two US government buildings in Benghazi, Libya, back in 2012 when four Americans lost their lives.

They proclaimed Trump their hero for exacting payback after the United States’ Baghdad embassy had been breached on Tuesday by pro-Iran Iraqi militants, who then staged a sit-in demonstration. The intruders’ goal – ironically similar to what until recently had been Trump’s own stated policy – was to get US troops removed from Iraq.

Discussion of what is and what is not an appropriate response was frowned upon by large numbers of those who tweeted. There seemed to be little interest in the fact that the US, in retaliation for the death of a single contractor, had just taken the lives of 25 militants. It was that earlier American response, perceived by the militant group as disproportionate, that sparked the embassy occupation.

Although those breaking into the embassy grounds chanted, “Death to the Great Satan,” it’s worth noting that they didn’t kill anyone before leaving a day later.

Many commenting on Murphy’s thread preferred the views of Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham. “Wow – the price of killing and injuring Americans has just gone up drastically.” Graham tweeted. “Soleimani was one of the most ruthless and vicious members of the Ayatollah’s regime. He had American blood on his hands.”

My reply to that is, yes, but it’s likely a great deal more blood will be shed by Americans and others if Washington doesn’t keep its wits about it.

Just one more reference to the fictional world that I imagine in Nuclear Blues: By keeping US forces tied up in Honduras to feed his anti-immigration political base, the president unthinkingly provides an opportunity for North Korea – a more dangerous enemy than even Iran, not to mention bush-league Honduras – to undertake a mission that threatens to bring on World War III and end the world.

Remember that old, and good, advice: Keep your powder dry.

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