Strange Times Are These
When conspiracy theories don’t sound so crazy.
Dear Reader (and those interested in advertising the Sussex Royal brand on my podcast),
So at The Dispatch—up and fully running for three days now—we talk a lot about being fact-driven and opposed to hot takes, click bait, and conspiracy mongering.
Three days of that is probably enough. So, here’s a completely unsubstantiated, unverified, and probably unlikely theory inspired in part from some chatter I heard at my cigar shop.
Suleimani was set up by the Iranians. He was too much of a hot head, growing his own power base independent of the mullahs and making it harder for Iran to get out from underneath sanctions. The Iranian leadership couldn’t stop him from conducting a series of dangerously provocative terror attacks, so they basically gave him to the Americans in exchange for … something. I’m not sure what, but maybe withdrawal from Iraq.
By burning Suleimani the Iranians lose a loose cannon and gain a useful propaganda martyr. The fact that CIA Director Gina Haspel perfectly predicted the Iranian response beforehand suggests she may have actually negotiated it from the beginning.
Also, something about lizard people.
Now, I don’t actually subscribe to this (though I don’t think it’s as crazy as it probably sounds). But this whole thing feels weirder and weirder to me, even if we don’t have enough facts for me to put my finger on why.
Maybe I’m just a little confused because I think Trump was right and his critics are wrong, and that’s not an entirely familiar feeling for me.
Of course, there is no reason to take the president’s word for it that an attack on our embassy—or embassies—was imminent, but I don’t think the soundness of the decision hinges on that anyway. As I wrote last week, Suleimani needed killing. And the only argument against killing him, particularly when he was flying into Baghdad to help plot terror strikes against America and our allies, was that the price of the Iranian response would be too high.
But if the only price was the missile attack the other night—still a big if—then it’s a no-brainer. I’m always being told I have Trump derangement syndrome and that I never have anything good to say about him or his administration. Well, given what we know right now, I fully support Trump’s drone strike. Again, if the missile strike is the only response we get from Iran, then this was an unmitigated national security win. Trading some buildings for the architect of Iran’s proxy war is a no-brainer.
But I just have a feeling the story won’t end here.
War powers, what are they good for?
Things get weirder still. I cannot stand Rep. Matt Gaetz, and not just because he looks like he could play himself in Team America: World Police. Similarly, I am not exactly on up-to-date on my dues to the Rand Paul fan club. But I agree with them about reining in the president’s war powers, though I’d prefer to have Mike Lee do the talking on the issue. I like that guy.
As I often rant, Congress might as well be a movie set or an exhibit at Epcot Center, given its refusal to actually do the hard work the Founding Fathers intended for it.
Some quick background: First there was a thick primordial stew covering much of the surface of the planet. Then … okay I’ll skip ahead.
For reasons that are hard to summarize pithily, much of the political class has convinced itself we live in a parliamentary democracy. We think presidents are like prime ministers and therefore when you vote for a president you vote for a party and that all the legislators in the president’s party should follow the president’s lead.
Even though most GOP senators either outperformed the president in 2016 or weren’t even up for election in 2016, the president’s “mandate” somehow supersedes their own. This is a bipartisan mistake, which is why nearly every Democrat running for president—with the exception of Joe Biden—has talked as though being elected president would guarantee that the legislature would rubber stamp his or her agenda. Elizabeth Warren even seems to think that all that is keeping her from abolishing the Electoral College is being elected.
But the problem is worse than that. Legislatures in parliamentary democracies actually do stuff. Congress has outsourced vast swaths of its responsibilities to the executive branch, the courts, and the permanent bureaucracy.
Okay, now, here’s the point. Because of all of this, the only time either party talks about restraining the president’s war powers—or the deficit, or the debt, or federalism, or transparency, or a thousand other things—is when that party doesn’t hold the White House. In short, they are foul weather constitutionalists and statesmen. (It’s like so much of our political culture: Standards and principles are things you hold the other team to.)
When the other party holds the White House, legislators take to the floor of the House and Senate and wax prolix on the need to restore the constitutional balance, restrain the imperial presidency, check runaway spending, etc. But when their guy is in the Oval Office, Katie bar the door, let’s go for transformational change, baby.
The only way this will ever get fixed is for elected officials to actually step up and restrain a president from their own party. But restrain is the wrong word, because the Constitution restrains the president, yes, even on foreign policy. The correct word is “restore.” Nothing being proposed by anyone would move more than a few inches toward the proper constitutional balance, but even a few inches in the right direction would be better than continuing to slide in the wrong direction.
Frankly, my attitude toward the war powers debates has always been a bit like The Tick’s to PowerPoint presentations, “slideshow … boring, losing consciousness.” And if I could choose just one issue for the GOP to start growing a constitutional spine, it probably wouldn’t be this one. But I’ll take it.
Various & Sundry
If this “news”letter doesn’t quite feel like I’ve checked the box on a proper Goldberg File, let me just say the feeling is mutual. It’s been a crazy day for personal and professional reasons (I recorded two podcasts, in two locations, with two great guests: Jake Tapper of CNN and Ross Douthat of the Scheinhardt Wig Company). Launching a start-up has broken all of my writing rhythms and I hope to get back to normal soon. I really appreciate your patience and understanding.
Canine Update: The girls have been through the wringer. The Fair Jessica and I were gone for a couple weeks, then I came back for like 36 hours and had to leave town for 24 hours for a speech, but not before Zoë tore out of her collar to chase a bunny. Then the Fair Jessica Returned (to a frantic welcoming committee) only to leave town again 24 hours later. The result has been two extremely needy dogs with a pronounced sense of entitlement, even for them. Worse, this morning, we discovered that we were out of the jerky treats (Rocco and Roxie to be exact. They should advertise on The Remnant). I gave them both the rawhide Dingo ball things and Pippa rebelled. Worse, Pippa’s limp just won’t go away, so Monday I have to take her to the vet. They said she needs to be on restricted duty until then, which is a concept Pippa doesn’t really understand. But I am doing the bare minimum. Gracie is also super needy. And, in the most shocking development in feline affairs in decades, Ralph is even being nice to me.
And now, the weird stuff.
Photograph of Donald Trump by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.