Is War Good for U.S. Presidents?

There’s nothing better than being a wartime U.S. President as long as it’s considered a good war, e.g., the Civil War (Abe Lincoln), World War Two (Franklin Roosevelt). But more dubious wars have tarnished the reputation of the top men: World War One (Woodrow Wilson), the Vietnam War (Lyndon Johnson). So where does President Trump, conscious of his legacy, stand on the brink of a serious war with Iran?

This is somewhat paradoxical since he won his surprise election at least in part on his promise to stay out of war. He blames Iran for dragging him in, but it was his choice to assassinate Iran’s top military leader in Iraq, a neutral country. An escalation was bound to follow. Critics blame the hawkish advisers around him, though in fact he chose them. Others more appropriate were available.

Could it be that despite well publicized chats with war skeptics like Senator Rand Paul and TV host Tucker Carlson, he somehow couldn’t resist the glory and panoply that come with war, far preferable to the ignominy of impeachment, even if undeserved. Whatever the cause of the clash, Americans tend to respond patriotically to an embattled President, at least initially. If successful, his name may be engraved on American memory and currency. Generations to come will speak of him with admiration. A born showman can succumb to this.

Yet Trump is not known for consistency. He could turn on a dime and be a force for peace. But has he gone too far, starting with his overthrow of the well constructed nuclear deal with Iran, a genuine achievement of the otherwise war happy Obama administration? Has he doubled down by threatening attacks on cultural targets in Iran? The U.S. Military command has denied this will happen, but it does bring to mind previous cultural destruction like the obliteration of ancient non-military Dresden, Germany, by British bombers in World War II.

Beyond the actions of this particular President, how much power do we want concentrated in his office? How democratic is it and how much does it reflect the wishes of the American people? Should a small group huddled in the White House, apart from Congress and any serious popular backing, have such life and death power? It needs discussing.

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