Maybe impeachment was the “imminent threat” that prompted President Donald Trump to order a drone strike that killed one of Iran’s top generals.
Or maybe it wasn’t.
It’s hard to know, because the communication from the president and his team about the rationale for the deadly attack has been so chaotic, confused and amateurish.
After spending nearly three years belittling and calling into question the quality of U.S. intelligence gathering, the president and his people now say we should trust the same intelligence-gathering forces that he has encouraged us to despise. He’s made hyperbolic threats to destroy Iranian cultural sites – which would be a war crime – as his advisors almost immediately walk by or deny that the threats have been made. He’s issued almost apocalyptic warnings to Iran in the evening, then all but cooed conciliation the following morning.
There’s no need for anyone to debate Donald Trump on his Iran policy.
He’s having a good argument all on his own.
While watching him flail might be amusing in other circumstances, it isn’t when people are likely to die if Iran and other nations in the Middle East misread our messages or our intentions.
Nor is the president’s incoherence likely to reassure anyone who isn’t already part of his amen corner.
The issue isn’t ideology. It’s competence.
One of the keys to convincing people that you know what you’re doing is to sound like you know what you’re doing.
The president sounds like he’s making it up as he goes along.
It’s possible that he is.
The articles of impeachment passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and held now by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, are like a bucket of glue stuck to Trump’s shoe. It doesn’t stop him from moving, but, try as he might, he can’t shake loose.
He could continue to limp along, but the longer the glue stays stuck to his foot the more it’s likely to cost him.
The impeachment fight never has been about removing Trump from office. Not really.
Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and other Democratic congressional leaders are skilled enough at vote counting to know that they never were going to round up the 67 votes in the U.S. Senate they’d need to pry Trump from the Oval Office.
So, then, why the battling over allowing testimony in the trial in the Senate?
Because the impeachment proceedings create difficult – and maybe even impossible – political problems for a handful of Republican senators who are up for re-election this November.
Cory Gardner in Colorado, Susan Collins in Maine, Martha McSally in Arizona and perhaps Thom Tillis in North Carolina all have public approval numbers that range from endangered to threatened.
Standing with the president and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, to stonewall the impeachment inquiry keeps Trump supporters in the embattled senators’ camps – and likely prevents them from having to contend with any primary challenges.
But it also risks alienating the independents and moderate Republicans – especially those in suburbs – who have been abandoning the GOP by the millions during the Trump presidency.
By refusing to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate without a deal on testimony, Pelosi forces those vulnerable senators to dangle longer and longer and choose which form of possible political suicide they would prefer.
The pressure will increase.
The announcement by former National Security Advisor John Bolton that he now wants to tell his story raises the stakes still higher.
Now, the president and his Republican Senate allies have a tough choice. Do they let Bolton tell his story now and deal with it? Or do they wait until the fall, when Bolton’s tell-all book is set to be published? Poison now or poison later?
For the moment, the president and his team seem determined to do whatever gets them through the next 10 minutes.
But improvisation, by definition, isn’t a foreign policy, a military strategy or even a campaign plan.
It’s a series of acts of desperation, all designed to meet a variety of imminent threats, both foreign and domestic, some of them even self-inflicted.