Plummeting in Polls, will Trump ‘Wag the Dog’ with Iran, N. Korea?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Voice of America reports that on Thursday, Trump met with US military leaders to discuss Iran and North Korea, then staged a photo opportunity with them. He asked the journalists,

“You guys know what this represents? . . . Maybe it’s the calm before the storm.”

What storm?

“You’ll find out.”

Trump has menaced North Korea with “fire and fury” and is now said to be determined to decertify Iran on compliance with the nuclear deal (the International Atomic Energy Agency, which inspects Iran’s nuclear facilities, says Iran is in compliance).

Trump is a blowhard and you can’t pay too much attention to his bluster or you’d never get any sleep.

But what is worrying is that Trump’s poll numbers are cratering in a way unprecedented for any modern president, as a just-released Associated Press poll makes clear:


In March, 42 percent of respondents approved of Trump’s handling of his job.

In late September, only 32 percent said they approved of Trump’s job performance.

67 percent or over 2/3s say they disapprove. Let’s just underline that a 2/3s majority is required in Congress to impeach a president.

Even among Republicans, his approval numbers fell from 80 percent last spring to 67 percent today. (Two-thirds of Republicans apparently wouldn’t care if Bozo the Clown was president as long as he said he was a Republican).

The conjuncture of these two pieces of news– Trump making cryptic but dire threats and Trump’s astonishing unpopularity–creates the threat of a wag the dog scenario.

Americans rally around the flag when the US goes to war, and presidents know this. The 1997 dark comedy film directed by Barry Levinson, “Wag the Dog,” gave its name to this strategy (in the movie, a phony war with Albania is used as a means of distracting the public from a candidate’s sex scandal).

George W. Bush was widely viewed as a buffoon before 9/11 and the Iraq War, and only in 2006 did the buffoon image return to some extent. The war likely saved his presidency, and that may be one of the reasons Bush launched it.

Trump is having the kind of fall from grace politically that typically tempts presidents into some sort of military action.

And that is why we should take his “calm before the storm” threat seriously.

16 Responses

  1. It seems almost inconceivable that one man’s ego can bring about the deaths of millions of people and cause mass destruction on an unimaginable scale. I believe Trumps insanity, for that’s what it really is, will be used by the military, arms dealers and manufactures together with the deep state, Israel and many other invested interests to attack North Korea. They will all but exterminate the population of North Korea and lay the country to waste. They will use this as an example to middle east countries and others as an example of what they can expect if they don’t capitulate. I’m quite sure that had Clinton won, something similar would be happening. Presidents don’t lead, they are managed and manipulated by dark forces behind facade of government. Trumps ego is the catalyst for the conflagration to come.

    • Your first sentence is spot-on. The United Nations should be an organization that can prevent this exact thing, otherwise it’s no good at all in keeping the peace in major ways. In this day, NO one man ought to have the power of life and death over the planet, or an entire country.

      We must have a global government structure and complete denuclearization, or we are doomed, even if climate change doesn’t do the job for us.

  2. Will the military force 25th Amendment action? The craven Republicans can’t stop dithering about their race base.

    The military has to know that we can’t win in Iran, a country with far more resources than the Afghanistan quagmire.

    Also, outdoing the “fire and fury” (massive war crimes) of the 1950-53 Korean War would be almost impossible, unless MacArthur’s evil plan to create a radioactive dead zone was executed.
    Executing that plan will put Trump and America in history like Hitler and Germany.
    “General Douglas MacArthur’s plan to win was a list of targets sent to the Pentagon, requesting 34 atomic bombs to create ‘a belt of radioactive cobalt across the neck of Manchuria so that there could be no land invasion of Korea from the north for at least 60 years,’”
    from: link to

    • When will the rest of the world put the US on notice, sanction us, stop enabling our rush toward destruction on a continent-wide scale? The UN and NATO are so quick to intervene in petty incidents, but international organizations and spokesmen seem powerless to confront Uncle Sam going rogue.

  3. As far as Iran is concerned what Trump has indicated is that he may not certify Iran’s adherence to the JCPOA. Such certification is not part of the deal itself, it’s an entirely US domestic requirement foisted on Obama by Congress, and Trump declining to do so would be being disrespectful to Congress since Iran’s adherence has been reliably confirmed by everyone else. Failing to certify would have no immediate effect on the deal. What he would have to do is renounce it, and presumably reinstate the sanctions lifted in consequence of it’s progressive implementation by Iran. That would have to pass through Congress and could indeed be done but not automatically as a result of Trump failing to certify Iran’s adherence. The other signatories, including Iran, might well decide to adhere to it, in which case their task would be to find ways in which to protect their commercial entities from the the effects of US punitive actions. Considering that would be the UK, France, China, Russia, Germany, the EU itself, all the members of the G77, and probably everyone else bar Israel and a handful of ME depots, that would involve one hell of a face off and saner voices might prevail.

    North Korea is another matter. Attacking Pyongyang is something, I understand, he could initiate off his own bat. Several ‘experts’ have postulated various scenarios consequent on such an act and none of them is in any way appealing. He wouldn’t even earn a place in history because there likely wouldn’t be anyone around to write it.

  4. As the rumble of the falls get closer and closer, maybe congress should think about a law or resolution that requires a Declaration of War from congress prior to the start of any military operations against any country that we are not already doing so. Might even mention North Korea, Iran, and Venezuela as specific no no’s without the

    We’ve got a rabid dog for president, and it seems that there is no way to stop him from taking his next bite. Requiring a Declaration of War is not a sure fire restraint, given that many Republicans have the same inclinations as their pack leader, but maybe force a stop and think.

    The notion that we, as a nation, cannot stop a cruel, incompetent, egomaniac, put in place by the electoral college, from starting wars as he sees fit, is more than scary.

  5. Smokescreen in order to mask Mr. Mueller’s investigation ?
    Wag-the-dog strategy against opinion polls reminding the Malvinas-Falkland fiasco ? Neither is pleasant ; moreover, both are compatible… Three heads between the chaos and us (U.S) ….. Let us have a nice weekend

  6. It seems almost inconceivable that one man’s ego can bring about the deaths of millions of people and cause mass destruction on an unimaginable scale…

    I have one name for you…Bush!
    The invasion of Iraq …is still killing humans …16 years later!

  7. We know this scam will work, for a while. It always works. The Presidents who end wars get punished.

    Nixon used the war both to get into power by promising to end it (while secretly promising Thieu the opposite), and by keeping it going so that he would get the boost in power and loyalty received by every war president. Is it a coincidence that when he finally settled the war in 1973, his routine criminality in the White House suddenly began to be viewed by the media and the public in a completely different light? As though doing it in wartime was for the national good, but doing it without a war was now suddenly about personal gain?

    Under those circumstances, it’s hard to deny that if George H. W. Bush had kept the war against Iraq going in 2004, he would have avoided his electoral fate. It’s actually amazing that every president hasn’t begun Vietnam-sized wars and kept them going until re-election time.

  8. Talmadge Wright

    Trump knows that liberal opposition will collapse as soon as he attacks and Americans lose their lives. He will wrap himself in the American flag and then go after those Americans further on the Left who will actively challenge his actions. This is how it will play out. And conservatives will cheer.

  9. As long as Mattis/McMaster/Kelly/Tillerson remain in their posts, I doubt Trump would go bonkers/looney tunes.

    If they finally do resign because their POTUS is an insufferable idiot – or as our Sec. of State astutely noted, an “effin’ idiot – well, better start heading to the bunker.

  10. it seems your system is broken – perhaps as Trump’s excesses grow someone will propose a system where one unhinged individual cannot speak for the entire population…

  11. So Trump would go to war to improve his ratings? Sounds about right. Lets hope they impeach the idiot before that happens.

    Iran is in compliance and that is all there is to it. It doesn’t have the greatest human rights record, but neither do a lot of other countries including China, Russia, India, etc.

    Going to war with N. Korea, Trump must be nuts. That could kill 20 Million S. Korean’s and they aren’t interested in dying or a war with N. Korea.

    if Trump were to start a war with any of these countries he needs to be arrested and taken to the Hague and tried as a war criminal, crimes against humanity. He can serve out his life sentence in the Netherlands.

    Not fond of N. Korea or rather its leader but right now he looks more sane than Trump. We may not like what N. Korea is doing with missiles, etc. but they are a sovereign nation and as such have the right to determine what weapons of war they need. As to the nuclear business, well they have it and they aren’t going to give it up so the Americans and the rest of the world will just have to get over it. They might try being nice for a chance with N. Korea. Being nasty isn’t working. or as mother said, you get more flies with honey than with vinegar.

    Del, perhaps with the Generals around Trump he may not go loony tunes because if he does one of them may just shove him in a closet until his rant is over. We can only hope Tillerson and the General stay in their positions. It may be a lot of peoples chance to live to be old.

  12. In short: If 80% of Americans are against a war with North Korea, then any such action by the suffering, unconscious President Trump would be grounds for impeachment for not representing the people. I believe an Occupy The Presidency would be supported by at least 70% of Americans. Considering, that wars are income for the military industriaal complex, make some individuals rich and provide many jobs for Americans. I’m guessing that about 30% of America’s job force is working for the Military industrial complex.

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