• A Reckless Decision

    Donald Trump faces impeachment because he is accused of using the power of his office – that is, the power granted to him as President to be exercised on behalf of the country and the general interest – to further his own political interests, and, in particular, his wish to be re-elected.

    The evidence for this is a telephone call he made to the President of Ukraine, during which he was overheard “asking a favour” of President Zelensky; the favour requested was that a Ukrainian inquiry should be made into allegations of corruption involving the son of Joe Biden, who is leading the race for nomination as the Democratic candidate and who is, as shown by the polls, likely to beat Trump in the presidential election.

    The “favour” was linked to the American provision of large-scale military aid to Ukraine – aid that was, when the inquiry did not materialise, withheld on Trump’s orders.

    The recent assassination by American drone of a leading Iranian general, Qassem Suleimani, when he was visiting Iraq, shows that Trump has learned nothing from his impeachment. He has been quick to claim credit for the assassination, which has certainly had the presumably desired effect of taking his impeachment out of the headlines – a classic example of a “wag the dog” foreign intervention designed to divert attention from domestic issues.

    But it again raises the question of whether the President has used the power of his office to further his campaign to be re-elected, rather than to serve the interests of the country. The assassination was almost certainly an illegal act – it was, after all, on one level, simply an act of murder.

    If Trump’s justification for it – that Sulameini was intending to launch an attack on American targets – is to be believed, the murder was an “act of war”, but one of which he failed to give prior notice to Congress, as he is obliged to do under American law.

    Whatever the constitutional and legal niceties, what is clearly beyond dispute is that the assassination has dangerously increased tensions in an already dangerous Middle East. The Iranians have vowed retaliation, and the Iraqis have asked American troops to leave their country, leaving the way clear for a revival of Isis.

    The world itself is now at risk, with nuclear-armed countries threatening each other. The tragedy is that, quite apart from the Trump-ordered assassination, the whole tinder-box is a Trump creation.

    In the years preceding Trump’s election victory in 2016, concern had been mounting, not least in Israel, at the possibility that Iran might be in process of acquiring nuclear weapons. Trump’s predecessor, President Obama, had recognised the danger and had negotiated an agreement under which the Iranians would halt their nuclear weapons programme, and would accept international inspection to verify that they had done so, in return for which the Americans and other Western countries would lift the trade sanctions they had imposed on Iran.

    Trump was so determined to reject and disown anything that Obama had achieved that, without consulting his European allies who were also parties to the agreement, he tore it up and again subjected to trade sanctions an Iran that was no longer under any obligation to terminate its nuclear weapons programme.

    Trump has now, as Joe Biden has said, thrown into the tinder box the “dynamite stick” of Sulameini’s assassination. It is hard to believe that any sane person, let alone world leader, could have acted so irresponsibly.

    His threat to respond to any Iranian retaliation by attacking Iranian cultural heritage sites reveals a complete abandonment of civilised behaviour and a disregard of international law.

    If Trump’s threatened withdrawal of American military aid as a means of extracting “a favour” from Ukraine was an impeachable offence, then his reckless pursuit of a favourable headline by murdering a foreign leader is even more so.

    This time, however, the world has more than an onlooker’s interest. An outbreak of nuclear war in the Middle East would be disastrous for us all. We must hope that American voters (and Republican senators) will recognise that neither we nor they we can any longer tolerate or afford a President who is prepared to jeopardise world peace so as to advance his own political interests.