The President’s speech to the nation (Wednesday morning, Jan. 8, 2020) seems to have raised more questions than it answered, and his approach to the truth appears to be unchanged. The President used the speech for an airing of grievances, and he didn’t display much knowledge of the history of the relationship between the US and Iran. He offered no clear reasons for our attack, did not explain the alleged “imminent attack” by Iraq that he says triggered our military action, and he told an outrageous lie about who paid for Iran’s missiles. These shortcomings are not helping Trump’s credibility problem.
I have no love for the Iranian theocracy, but we would do well to remember that our relations with Iran have not been exemplary. In fact, we were the catalyst for bad relations when we decided to overthrow Iran’s duly elected prime minister and install the Shah. The Shah’s brutal regime brought about an internal resistance movement culminating in the hostage crisis in 1979-80 and the present Iranian regime. We took a democracy and turned it into a tyrannical monarchy, a monarchy that created fanatic, desperate defiance.
The President asserted that Obama provided the money for Iran’s missiles. This is demonstrably a lie. The Iranians were getting their own money returned to them, money we received by selling them weapons and then failing to deliver on the deal. This is known as theft.
And so the President’s recent actions have done little to increase his credibility with the public. To be credible, he’ll need to demonstrate he has the experience and credentials to be taken seriously. In the meantime, world leaders laugh at him. Telling lies makes it hard for the audience to find the speaker trustworthy—a key quality of those who are credible, along with integrity and responsibility. Integrity means you do what you say you will do and others can rely on you to get it right. Responsibility is the idea that we accept liability for our actions. We are accountable for what we say and do.
Trump has failed to show that he understands these ethical concerns, and his zero cred will make it difficult for him to keep events under control. The lack of a plan, a reason, or a negotiation will cause more confusion. The conventional wisdom of the hour is that this incident is now winding down, but those with extensive foreign policy experience do not believe we’ve heard the last word. Cyber attacks, proxy attacks, terrorism may still be likely. We may have avoided a full-blown hot war, but the shadow war continues.