The Strategic Need For Good Advice

By

Leonard Zwelling

According to various reports, President Trump had had enough when he saw the attempted sacking of the American embassy in Baghdad by Iraqi citizens and Iran-backed militia. He was not going to be accused of “another Benghazi.” So he struck, much to the surprise of his advisers although supposedly Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were all for the assassination of Suleimani. Now the world is holding its breath. What will the Iranians do, because they certainly won’t do nothing? It is possible that we are at a World War I moment where a high profile assassination triggers an international conflagration. Maybe it will be just a regional one if we are lucky.

Let’s think about what Mr. Trump might have done short of killing the second most powerful man in Iran. First, where the heck are we in the Middle East?

We have been at war in that part of the world since 9/11. We still have troops in Afghanistan where surely we will get nothing for the blood and treasure spent, but that’s not on Mr. Trump. W owns that.

Then there’s Iraq. Also a gift from W and his advisers. What have we got out of the removal of Saddam Hussein? Nothing. Well, not nothing. Now the Iraqi Shia majority that Saddam kept under his thumb has risen to demand power in Iraq and Iran has taken advantage of the like-minded new leadership in Iraq and the Iraqi parliament has voted to expel the Americans. Well, that was fifteen years of war for nothing especially given the WMDs that Bush was chasing when he went to war never materialized.

What might have been a better plan of action for Mr. Trump given the hand he was dealt by his predecessors?

The first thing Mr. Trump needed to do was articulate what he wants out of the American presence in Iraq. I have no idea. It certainly wasn’t to protect American interests any longer and the same is true in Afghanistan. Saddam is gone. The Taliban are still in Afghanistan and the money we could have used to fix the roads in Kansas has been spent in the sands of Eurasia.

Is the American presence in Iraq keeping ISIS under control? Perhaps and if that is the case, perhaps that ought to be made clearer.

Maybe Trump is using the American presence in Iraq as pressure to keep Iran honest. That’s not working. America has strict sanctions on Iran, the people are hurting and we are provoking the Iran regime to strike. How does that make us safer?

Maybe Trump is protecting Israel. That isn’t right because his latest “targeted killing” in Iraq is only making Israel a more likely target of Iranian aggression as Saudi Arabia has already proved to be when their oil fields were destroyed.

The only reasonable conclusion is that either Trump is getting terrible advice, as did Bush 43 before the Iraq invasion, or he just doesn’t listen.

This may be Trump’s greatest vulnerability. He has poor advisers (because he fired all the good ones or they quit) and even if they were good ones, Trump doesn’t listen.

This may also be a problem closer to home. I am not really sure who the last few presidents of MD Anderson listened to whether it was about serving on the board of Enron, going on national television and pushing a drug company owned by the president, or deciding what to do about Chinese scientists and Medicare audits. I understand MD Anderson is making money hand over fist, but is that the criteria for good decision-making? Maybe from the vantage point of those in Austin who really call the shots at 1515, but not from the point of view of the faculty.

Maybe the most important organ a leader must have after his or her brain is his or her ears. The least important is his or her ego. Before Mr. Trump pulls another trigger, he might think about that. Ditto the leaders in Pickens.

Leonard Zwelling