To the Apocalypse and Back in a Week
Let’s suppose you had slept through the past week and turned on your television this morning. What would you notice had changed?

The House and Senate are still wrangling over impeachment. Problems with the Boeing 737 Max continue. Concern is mounting over wildfires in Australia. Nothing, in short, seems very different. Sure, there was some House vote on Iran yesterday, but it might be hard to convince you that America had traveled to the brink of the apocalypse and back in the span of seven days.

Or at least it seemed that way at the time. Was it a dream? Some overwrought media coverage? Or did we come close to plunging into a catastrophic Mideast war this week? If we did, why do things seem so
normal now?

It will take months to fully grasp the repercussions of Donald Trump’s decision to order the killing of Iran’s powerful Major General Qassim Suleimani last Thursday . But what we learned over this surreal week was alarming enough. A press corps battled-hardened by three years of almost daily disinformation from the Trump administration was able to expose its barrage of lies virtually in real time.

The day after Thursday night’s drone strike, the president and his aides argued that the killing was necessitated by “ clear and unambiguous ” intelligence indicating that attacks on Americans were imminent.

It took the New York Times all of 24 hours to puncture their story . The intelligence, according to an unnamed official, “indicated ‘a normal Monday in the Middle East.’”

“T op Pentagon officials were stunned” by Trump’s order, the paper reported.

The story, by Helene Cooper, Eric Schmitt, Maggie Haberman and Rukmini Callimachi, rose above palace intrigue. It revealed that the president and his advisers were lying to the public about a decision that could
have triggered a war.

In the days that followed, reporters provided the public with a running narrative of an administration too disorganized to get its story straight, as when Haberman and Peter Baker memorably reconstructed Trump’s continuing threats to target Iran’s cultural sites as his aides were denying he was doing so.

Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post may have gotten off the best line about the dissembling. “We have now reached the point where Pompeo lies about his lies,” she wrote of the Secretary of State.

If the divorce from the truth seemed Trumpian, so did the willingness to commit war crimes, Jonathan Chait argued in New York , reminding us that the president had recently pardoned a convicted war criminal over the objections of military leaders, and endorsed torture on the campaign trail.

“This is Trump’s deepest belief about foreign policy: The things that separate the United States from terrorists and dictatorships are not a source of strength, but of weakness,” Chait wrote.

Michelle Goldberg put a finer point on it. “The nightmare phase of the Trump presidency is here,” she wrote Tuesday. “ There are no more adults in the room.”

She might have taken some solace from her colleague Michael Grynbaum’s media column that day, which pointed out confusion on the right. “Just as the political world was caught off guard by the killing of General Suleimani, so was the conservative media complex,” he wrote.

Tucker Carlson wondered why Pompeo was quoting intelligence claims that Suleimani posed an imminent threat. “Seems like about 20 minutes ago, we were denouncing these people as the ‘Deep State’ and pledging never to trust them again without verification,” he said.

George Conway, the truth-tweeting husband of Kellyanne Conway, pierced through the debate over Trump’s Iran strategy.

It amazes me that, three years in, anyone could ask, about any subject, ‘What is Trump’s strategy?’” he wrote. “There is NEVER a strategy. Virtually everything that Trump does can be explained most cogently by his narcissism and sociopathy. The media would better account for Trump’s behavior by talking about that.”

On Wednesday the crisis seemed to end as suddenly as it began. Iran fired off missiles at sparsely-populated U.S. military targets in Iraq (or so we were told) and then called it a day. If our luck holds, the episode will join the scrapheap of every other Trump controversy, another pile of facts interpreted differently by his allies and foes. Considering the alternative, we'll take it.

This morning the sun rose as usual. America is not at war. Had you slept through this all, you would have missed everything, and nothing.
Quotable
"Most of this country has never accepted Trump, but over the past three years, many have gotten used to him, lulled into uneasy complacency by an establishment that has too often failed to treat him as a walking national emergency. Now the nightmare phase of the Trump presidency is here. The biggest surprise is that it took so long."

-- Michelle Goldberg, January 6th.
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