It may be tempting to blame President Trump for the downed passenger jet in Iran last week, but a linear conclusion it is not.
At the least, such a judgment is premature and rigged with the politics of emotion.
Last week, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who sits on both the House Intelligence and Armed Services committees, essentially said the president was at fault for the downing of the plane, while media reports out of Canada, which lost at least 63 countrymen in the disaster, featured mourners pointing fingers at the U.S.
Officials from the U.S., the United Kingdom and Canada have all said that intelligence reports strongly suggest that the airplane was hit by an Iranian surface-to-air missile. Iran called that assessment a “big lie,” instead blaming technical issues.
In an interview Thursday on CNN, Speier insisted that the jetliner disaster was “collateral damage” from Trump’s “provocative” actions toward Iran. When pressed in another CNN interview Friday, she said that, while she wasn’t placing blame on Trump specifically for Iran’s apparent shoot-down of the plane, “it all emanates from the killing of [Maj. Gen Qassem] Soleimani” ordered by Trump.
Speier added that, in the wake of the air strike that targeted the Quds Force commander, Iran is “providing vengeance … to the United States,” which, though useful to the narrative dispensary, isn’t supported by logic in the case of the jetliner. Never mind the worrisome possibility that Trump’s aphasic-like means of expression may be a contagious tic.
Were Trump a more-trustworthy president — and his foreign policy more than just a “series of impulses,” as my colleague Fareed Zakaria so aptly put it recently — then people might be more inclined to wait out an investigation. In times of shock and grief, we humans quickly seek to assign blame, if only in part to designate a target for the anger that follows.
But, even considering Trump’s dubious foreign-policy record and the Soleimani assassination, laying even partial blame on the U.S. president for a crime (or accident) that Iran apparently committed doesn’t meet the minimum requirements of fairness or logic.
Consider: Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 took off from Tehran with 82 Iranians. By what strain of logic would killing so many of one’s own citizens hurt another nation? No doubt, Iran would love to “provide vengeance,” but Iranian officials announced early on that they would seek reprisal against the U.S. by striking military targets. Thus, last week, just hours before the airliner exploded mid-air, Iran fired more than a dozen short-range ballistic missiles at Iraqi military bases that housed American troops.
By the logic of those trying to saddle Trump with blame, these two events would have had to be coordinated strikes for the purpose of impugning Trump. But it would have been a mighty gamble for Tehran to presume that the world would react in synchrony against Trump rather than Iran. Furthermore, what sense would there be to conduct military strikes that caused no casualties and another that killed 176 civilians?
Almost as if choreographed, reaction to Flight 752 has refocused attention on the rationale behind Soleimani’s killing that he presented an “imminent danger” to Americans. Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Rand Paul, R-Ky., both have said that they heard nothing to support the “imminent” claim during a classified meeting to explain what happened. Lee went further, saying that it was the “worst” briefing on a military issue he had attended during his nine years in the Senate. Paul and Lee may have a legitimate point, one echoed by some Democrats, but their concerns are a distraction from what happened early Wednesday morning in the skies above Tehran.
Other theories about the plane crash include that it was merely a terrible accident or that the jetliner was felled because of a faulty engine. But video obtained and verified by The New York Times showed the moment of impact by what appears to be a ground-fired missile just minutes after the plane took off. Assuming enough evidence remains, an investigation may provide an answer to what happened.
In the meantime, pending facts — and respectful of victims and grieving families — speculation and finger-pointing are no help to anyone. And, though Trump unquestionably has exacerbated tensions in the Middle East by killing Soleimani, his finger, figuratively speaking, wasn’t on the button — this time.