From here in the Middle East – home to many of the world’s wealthiest, most autocratic, most dangerously, self-righteously erratic of fundamentalism-driven shithole countries – one of the most shocking aspects of U.S. President Donald Trump’s assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani was how oddly familiar it felt.
Donald Trump just turned his – your – United States of America into a Middle Eastern country.
And he did it by killing a kindred spirit.
Day after day, Trump himself provides the best evidence of this.
The four critical questions after the assassination of Iran's Soleimani ■ To avert war with Iran, Trump will need all the strong nerves and sophistication he sorely lacks ■ Overseas Black Ops units await Iran's signal to strike ■ Iran's 'crushing revenge' may prove formidable challenge for Soleimani's successor ■ By assassinating Soleimani, U.S. takes another step towards war with Iran
On Sunday, as his chief minister Mike Pompeo insisted to world leaders that “the United States remains committed to de-escalation,” Trump warned from his far-from-the-capital Winter Palace that, should Iran retaliate against Americans or American assets, the United States has its crosshairs on 52 sites, some of them highly important to “the Iranian culture,” which will be hit, he continued in a tweet, “VERY FAST AND VERY HARD.”
“The USA,” Trump concluded, with the blithe lack of self-awareness characteristic of the Middle Eastern dictator, “wants no more threats!”
There it is. All of it. Revenge – symbolic, grudge-immortal revenge – for Iran’s having taken 52 American hostages more than 40 years ago. And, no less, Trump’s jihadist-grade, international and U.S. law-flouting explicit threat of attacking cultural or heritage sites.
But it doesn’t stop there. As with any self-respecting Mideast potentate, Trump appears in public only at mass rallies held at sites carefully chosen for the fiery homogeneity of the minority of citizens in his country who support him as Supreme Leader. While there, he whips up hatred – ethnic, political, cultural, religious, often misogynist - against the majority in his country who oppose him.
The day after Soleimani's assassination, Trump took to the rostrum of the King Jesus International Ministry south Florida megachurch, to address some 7,000 cheering worshippers during the launch of the Evangelicals for Trump 2020 campaign. “I really do believe we have God on our side,” Trump said of 2016 election, “or there would have been no way that we could have won.”
On the pulpit, in a scene which recalled the Last Supper, a roster of high-profile pro-Trump pastors stood with palms facing the president at their center, as one intoned: “Lord, do something so great in him (Trump) and in this nation, that the pundits on TV and the news anchors will be amazed at how great America is, and how great God is, because God Is Great In America Again!
“In Jesus’ name we pray – Amen.”
And the list goes on. As the absolute ruler of his country, Trump embraces war criminals within his own armed forces, extolling them as heroes and presenting them as key supporters of his own policies.
The fact is, that everything about Trump has been leading to this moment, to this consequence, to governance in the worst stylings of the Middle East.
He had all the makings of a Mideast despot from the very start. He rose to public consciousness on the strength of a ruthless, racist father’s ill-gotten gains. As a high schooler, he led a parade in his bogus, gilt-braided military uniform, only to evade actual service to his country by the covert pulling of privileged strings.
Everything about Trump the politician has the corrupt, mendacious stamp of the Middle Eastern autocrat, from the gold-sprayed Hafez Assad-revival furniture of his Trump Tower throne room, to his nasty, cruel, endangered species-murdering heirs, raking tens of millions into their own pockets every year their dad remains in office.
Meanwhile, in true Middle East style, Trump hails his historic victory in an election which he and his allies have carefully and furtively rigged in his favor, only to find that in a country of 231 million eligible voters, only 62 million actually voted for him. The only minority that matters.
And what of his kindred spirit?
Like Soleimani, Trump has a singular gift for exploiting heretofore undetected weaknesses in his enemies. Like Soleimani, Trump is willing to order measures so literally unthinkable that they cannot be reasonably anticipated and defended against. And Trump, like Soleimani toward the end, has developed a heightened sense of ironclad invincibility, a global version of his January 2016 Iowa campaign comment that “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
In the end, it just might be that as Trump’s ample figure assumes a closer and closer resemblance to the profile of the Middle Eastern despot, the American president may also have a terminal case of the hubris that has blinded many a regional tyrant to the very factors which ultimately led to their overthrow.
Even without Soleimani, Iran knows where Trump is vulnerable. Oil prices and anti-corporate cyber offensives could have a telling effect on Trump’s vaunted stock market. And Iran can announce new steps toward creating a nuclear weapon.
All without firing a shot.
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