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Aesop’s Wars: Do Presidents Cry Wolf?

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The United States government is rattling the war sabre with the killing of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani.

President Donald Trump and Secretary Mike Pompeo justified the strike on Soleimani over the weekend, arguing that the commander was an “imminent” threat to the United States.

After the strike, the president announced that Soleimani was plotting “imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and American personnel, but we caught him in the act and terminated him.”

Pompeo argued consistently that Soleimani was an imminent threat to American lives, suggesting a potential attack was thwarted.

Speaking at the State Department, he claimed, “There’s been much made about this question of intelligence and imminence. Any time a president makes a decision of this magnitude, there are multitude pieces of information that come before him.”

While the president’s and secretary’s claims may be accurate, the problem persists that they refuse to provide any concrete evidence.

Citing “national intelligence sources” for the reason behind the bombing, the administration attempts to make the case they were relying on the intelligence community.

Here is where their argument gets very confusing.

Since the beginning of his presidency, Trump has argued that members of the intelligence community were very bad people out to get him, describing their efforts as a “witch hunt.”

He also made the claims they were part of the “deep state,” indicating they could not be trusted.

Now, after the president made the decision to kill Soleimani, he points to that same community he has spent three years defiling to defend his actions.

This leads to a set of serious questions. Did Soleimani actually pose an imminent threat or did the president have other reasons for the attack? Was the attack based upon a clear and present danger, or did the president make the decision based upon a “gut” impulse, a reaction he often brags about to people?

Were the leaders of Congress informed of the president’s decision and provided sound reason for his actions? Public statements from several members indicate they were not told in advance.

The decision for any president to engage in warlike actions should be taken with great caution and wisdom.

The response by Iran in bombing an Iraqi air base housing U.S. troops demonstrates the significant consequences of such decisions.

EthicsDaily.com has written consistently about Just War Theory as one means for demonstrating the significance of taking military action and the need for careful reflection on when to do so.

As the U.S. stands at the threshold of war, let us recall one of our great war time generals and presidents, Dwight D. Eisenhower, “War is mankind’s most tragic and stupid folly; to seek or advise its deliberate provocation is a black crime against all men.”

Ike is right.

The problem seems to be mounting that U.S. presidents are falling into a pattern of crying wolf when it comes to clear evidence for warlike actions and declarations.

Over the last several decades, U.S. presidents from Lyndon Johnson to Barack Obama have misled the American people to justify war and warlike actions.

In the last century, the two greatest missteps by presidents with regard to military action were Johnson about Vietnam and Bush about the invasion of Iraq.

Johnson inflated the threat and numbers to justify ramping up the war, while Bush falsely cited weapons of mass destruction for his reason to invade. Both decisions were proven to be misleading and wrong.

Now, we have another president placing the country on war footing.

However, in this instance, many people seem to understand what they have in President Trump: a pathological liar.

As late as last month, The Washington Post cited 15,413 “false or misleading” claims the president made over 1,055 days in office. That’s an average of 32 lies per day.

As an American citizen, I want to believe my presidents, regardless of party. I want to trust their words when they tell the country we are threatened with harm and their actions saved lives.

I want to believe President Trump, especially when the circumstances are so dire. Unfortunately, his record prevents me from trusting him.

He is not alone. Other presidents and party leaders – both Republicans and Democrats – have misled the American people when it comes to war and warlike actions. There are many folks involved in the process of enacting such measures.

While it seems to be a bipartisan course of action, I believe the American people are growing weary of being lied to about war.

The prophet Hosea denounced deceitful leaders when he proclaimed, “You have plowed wickedness, you have reaped injustices, you have eaten the fruit of lies. Because you have trusted in your power and in the multitude of your warriors” (Hosea 10:13).

The United States can no longer accept the notion that presidents and leaders lie to us about the basis for warlike actions.

Citing “national defense” has become a catchall phrase to legitimize too many military actions that history has proven to be anything but defensive in nature.

The United States should not lose another soldier based upon a presidential diversion or miscalculation. Americans deserve better.

We must urge our presidents, both now and in the future, to listen to the words of James, “Let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation” (James 5:12), and those of Jesus, “for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).

There is too much at stake for the presidents of the United States to keep crying wolf.

Why? One day, the wolf will show up.

Mitch Randall

Mitch Randall is executive director of EthicsDaily.com.