The im­peach­ment dis­trac­tion

Democrats force Trump to deal with their fan­tasies in­stead of loom­ing threats

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Jed Bab­bin

Any im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ing — even one as flimsy as the one be­ing pushed against Pres­i­dent Trump — is the great­est pos­si­ble dis­trac­tion from his re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. Mr. Trump’s in­abil­ity to ig­nore even the slight­est in­sult will mul­ti­ply that ef­fect a hun­dred­fold, his re­sponses lash­ing out on Twit­ter as they al­ready are.

In 1998-99, when Amer­ica last en­dured an im­peach­ment drama, the world was a rel­a­tively calm place. Two decades later the dan­gers to our na­tion are more se­ri­ous and im­me­di­ate. They will, de­spite the pres­i­dent’s in­evitable fo­cus on im­peach­ment, de­mand his at­ten­tion.

Rus­sia, China, Iran and North Korea (among oth­ers) are pre­par­ing to in­ter­fere in our 2020 elec­tion to their great­est abil­ity. House Democrats have passed a bill that they claim would pre­vent such in­ter­fer­ence but, in fact, would do es­sen­tially noth­ing. Con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans need a lot of guid­ance and pres­sure from the pres­i­dent to do more.

The war in Afghanista­n is now in its 19th year. Amer­i­can troops, as well as those from some re­main­ing coali­tion na­tions, are still be­ing killed. There is no prospect of even a cease-fire agree­ment with the Tal­iban, far less a set­tle­ment by which they will abide.

The Sept. 14 at­tack against ma­jor Saudi Ara­bian oil fa­cil­i­ties were per­pe­trated by Iran. Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo said flatly that the drones and cruise mis­siles were not launched from Ye­men. The at­tacks are be­lieved to have been launched from western Iran by Ira­nian Revo­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps troops or Hezbol­lah ter­ror­ists (Iran’s proxy) or both in co­op­er­a­tion.

Saudi Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man has said that a war be­tween his na­tion and Iran would cause the world’s econ­omy to col­lapse. His overly dra­matic state­ment il­lus­trates the Saudis’ near panic af­ter the Ira­nian at­tack.

Mr. Trump has dis­patched more troops to Saudi Ara­bia, along with a Pa­triot mis­sile bat­tery, to add to their de­fenses. Is he pre­pared to fight to de­fend Saudi Ara­bia?

Although Mr. Trump’s eco­nomic sanc­tions have crip­pled the Ira­nian econ­omy, those sanc­tions haven’t de­terred Iran’s mil­i­tary ag­gres­sion. As the Septem­ber at­tacks on Saudi Ara­bia demon­strate, eco­nomic sanc­tions are no longer enough. Stronger mea­sures are re­quired. Will the pres­i­dent choose a ki­netic re­sponse?

Un­for­tu­nately, our prin­ci­pal NATO al­lies — Bri­tain, France and Ger­many — while blam­ing Iran for the Septem­ber at­tacks are still do­ing ev­ery­thing else they can to ap­pease Iran. They are try­ing to get Mr. Trump to agree to an­other nu­clear weapons deal like the one former Pres­i­dent Obama made in 2015. Mr. Trump has a lot of work to do with those na­tions to bring them back to re­al­ity.

Those con­cerns are enough to keep any pres­i­dent in the Oval Of­fice burn­ing the mid­night oil, but they are only at the top of the pile.

Rus­sia’s proxy war in east­ern Ukraine goes on. Will the Ukraine-re­lated im­peach­ment charges de­ter Mr. Trump from act­ing ef­fec­tively against Rus­sia? Rus­sia is also mil­i­ta­riz­ing the Arc­tic from its base in Franz Josef Land above the Arc­tic Cir­cle and is cre­at­ing weapons whose sole pur­pose is to work ef­fec­tively in sub-zero tem­per­a­tures.

China, too, is as­sert­ing it­self in the Arc­tic. We have done vir­tu­ally noth­ing — only a few cold­weather ex­er­cises of troops — to meet these new chal­lenges. And that’s the least China is do­ing.

Chi­nese debt-trap diplo­macy, con­ducted through its Belt and Road ini­tia­tive, is rapidly turn­ing in­de­pen­dent na­tions into trib­u­tary states. In Pak­istan, that process is al­most com­plete. Forty out of 55 African states have re­port­edly signed mem­o­randa of un­der­stand­ing with China for Bei­jing to build roads, air­ports and port fa­cil­i­ties, which the Chi­nese will then con­trol. Its mil­i­ta­riza­tion of the South China Sea con­tin­ues at a fast pace, threat­en­ing U.S. al­lies such as Ja­pan.

China’s cy­ber­war against the United States goes on un­abated. Mr. Trump is try­ing to ne­go­ti­ate a trade deal with China that would at least slow its theft of U.S. se­crets — both com­mer­cial and mil­i­tary — but de­spite the threat of U.S. tar­iffs, China is un­likely to agree to such terms or abide by any such agree­ment. North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, de­spite two meet­ings with the pres­i­dent and Mr. Trump’s procla­ma­tion of mu­tual love, has not agreed to dis­arm his mis­siles and nu­clear weapons, and never will. North Korea con­tin­ues to fire mis­siles while ru­mors are cir­cu­lat­ing about an­other Trump-Kim sum­mit.

Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu’s re-elec­tion — af­ter the sec­ond Is­raeli elec­tion this year — still hinges on his abil­ity to form a na­tional unity gov­ern­ment with his ri­vals. Con­tin­ued in­sta­bil­ity in Is­rael’s gov­ern­ment may in­cent Iran into or­der­ing Hezbol­lah to launch an­other war against Is­rael at any time.

There are too many other emerg­ing threats to re­cite here. Mr. Trump has a good team around him and he will in­evitably del­e­gate much to them dur­ing the im­peach­ment. But he re­mains — in the words of former Pres­i­dent George W. Bush – “the de­cider.” Only he can de­cide which ac­tions we will take to an­swer the litany of in­ter­na­tional threats. And de­cide he must.

By ini­ti­at­ing im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings, the Democrats have cre­ated a dis­trac­tion for the pres­i­dent that will last the rest of 2019 and most of 2020. They clearly are plac­ing less value on our abil­ity to deal with the likes of Rus­sia, China, Iran and North Korea than on forc­ing the pres­i­dent to spend most of his time and en­ergy deal­ing with their po­lit­i­cal fan­tasies.

By ini­ti­at­ing im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings, the Democrats have cre­ated a dis­trac­tion for the pres­i­dent that will last the rest of 2019 and most of 2020.

Jed Bab­bin, a deputy un­der­sec­re­tary of De­fense in the George H.W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, is the au­thor of “In the Words of Our En­e­mies.”


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