To be perfectly clear, I am very glad that the U.S. did not strike Iran for shooting down a drone or have ICE conduct sweeping raids of undocumented immigrants this weekend. But we got very close to doing both only to have Trump pull back at the last minute.
Not being privy to the internal workings of this administration — as if that would actually clarify things — it appears to the casual observer that on both occasions Trump’s lizard brain acted out only to be pulled back when either cooler heads prevailed or someone — Ivanka? — said it would make him look bad.
To be fair, neither of those qualifiers have ever made any difference in the past for some of his knee-jerk responses, but those have usually been events that didn’t involve heavy artillery and body counts. And while the images of ICE sweeping through major cities, including Miami, reminiscent of those from central Europe 80 years ago would have given his base something to cheer about, it would have swept away all the indignation his minions have been fomenting about whether or not to refer to the immigrants’ involuntary destination as “detention centers” vs. “concentration camps.”
Of course he and his chorus of sycophants will proclaim that his wisdom prevailed against himself and they were all prepped and ready to go with defenses of the actions had they taken place, speaking over images of smoldering ruins of an Iranian radar facility and parades of immigrants behind chain-link fences.
To quote the immortal digby, “Trump fucked up.” Again. He simply cannot do the job that is required of him, which is to evaluate the situation, listen to all the arguments for and against an action, determine the safest course while knowing the risks, and then make a commitment that takes it all into account, including the long-term consequences. That’s what he’s supposed to do.
But he can’t. He doesn’t have the requisite judgment to do any of it. And while it may sound simple, it’s extremely hard and it’s been something that has challenged and daunted many presidents before him. In my lifetime every president has had to make these kinds of decisions. Some have succeeded; the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden, and some have been truly screwed up, either by their own miscalculation or just fate. Two come to mind: the Bay of Pigs under Kennedy in 1961 and the Iranian hostage rescue attempt under Carter in 1980.
The difference between those times and now is that those presidents were willing to publicly admit failure and take the blame. That will never happen with the current occupant, and I truly believe the reason he stopped mid-stream on both Iran and ICE is because something told him that he’d have to take responsibility in the face of possible failure. So while he may have career people advising him wisely on the options and consequences, he cannot bear the possibility of being seen as anything other than the smartest man in the room. To him, nothing is more important.