Why have I gone so many days without commenting on the assassination of Qasem Soleimani by the United States?
Because I’m still not sure what to say. I don’t have enough information to say “this was a good thing” or “this was a bad thing.” And ever since I made the move from news to editorial in 1994, I’ve been disinclined to write about anything that I couldn’t offer some sort of judgment on.
What follows is a few of the thoughts that have been going through my head since this happened…
We can’t get around the fact that this is Trump doing this.
First, if this is a classic “wag the dog” move, Trump has miscalculated. Because this incident underlines more starkly than anything else that’s happened in the past three years why it is an extraordinarily bad idea to have such an ignorant and deeply flawed person in the role of commander-in-chief.
Yes, the natural impulse in such a situation is for the American people to close ranks with the president and give him the benefit of the doubt. But how can anyone, other than the blindest of his base, do that with this man? Most people in the country know that he only cares about his own self-interest. There could be a situation in which his interest and the country’s coincidentally line up — the stopped-clock principal — but we know that to him, the country’s interest is simply not an operative variable.
And he lies. About everything. He doesn’t misspeak and then backtrack when the untruth is exposed, the way other people in politics do. He lies with utter abandon, and when the lie is proved beyond any doubt, he doubles down on it.
In a situation like this, in which (I’m assuming here) the American people can’t be shown all the evidence without compromising intelligence sources, it is essential that we have some faith in the truthfulness and judgment of the president, whether we like him or not. That is utterly impossible in this situation. So instead of persuadable people going, “This is a dicey situation, so we’d better rally around the president,” they are more likely to go “Oh, my God, how soon can we get someone else — anyone else — into the White House?”
Forgive me for starting with the political calculation, but the fact that this guy is in this job affects all the other things I have to say.
This is a job for the Deep State.
I can’t trust anything Trump — or anyone who owes his or her job to him — says about the situation. I know I can’t trust Republican members of Congress, either, based on their completely surrender of their minds to Trump. Nor am I terribly interested in what the Democratic presidential candidates think about it. (Yes, their statements may help us choose between them, but their reaction isn’t helpful in assessing the immediate situation, which is what I’m talking about here.)
What I want, what I need, to know in order to form a judgment is what the Deep State thinks. I need the views of experts who have no political dog in the fight.
Is it the consensus of our intelligence community that there was an imminent threat that justified taking the extraordinary chance (given that we don’t know what Iran will do) of killing this guy? Oh, and while I’m asking, what do they think we should do next?
Often in these situations, within a few days after the story has initially broken, there will be a piece — probably in The New York Times — from a reporter with excellent intelligence sources who has interviewed them about the situation and gleaned some sort of consensus from those sources.
This would be a great time for such a story. I’m not asking for the moon — I don’t expect something as definite as, for instance, the fact that ALL of our intelligence agencies agree that Russian interfered in the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf. I’m not greedy. I’d just like to know in general what people who know a LOT more about this than I do are thinking. That might help me decide what I think.
Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.
When in doubt, quote a Clint Eastwood movie, right?
I don’t think anyone in this country, outside of people like this out-of-work football player, doubts for a moment that Soleimani had it coming.
But he’s had it coming for a long time, and we’ve had the ability to kill him before now, and we haven’t done so. The question isn’t, “Did he deserve it?” The question is, what changed that switched the calculus toward a decision to kill him now? And was that calculation sound?
In other words, someone might be a bad guy, but killing him may be a bad idea. (In fact, as an opponent of the death penalty, I would argue that it’s usually a bad idea to kill someone just for being a bad guy.)
And we just don’t have enough reliable information to know.
No one, but no one, thinks war with Iran is a good idea.
No matter how crazy and bloodthirsty you may think neocons are, I can’t think of anyone in that camp that has ever put forth outright war with Iran as a good idea. (Neo-cons don’t usually count John Bolton among their number.) I’ve never seen the case credibly made that it would be in anyone’s interest, except maybe people on the sidelines who don’t like us, such as Russia or China.
So, you know, we probably need to do what we can to avoid it from this point on… which brings us back to my fervent wish that a normal human being of any party was in the White House right now… Something I heard on the radio earlier today struck me as ironic in the extreme: A Republican member of Congress (I think; I didn’t catch the name) was making the point that the Iranians aren’t totally crazy; they don’t want war with the United States. How weird is that? We’re counting on the ayatollahs to be more rational and mature than the president of the United States…
I could say much more, but I figure that’s enough to get a conversation going. Sorry to have taken so long, but as I say, I was hoping to know more….
A few random reactions to your post.
How ironic, right?- you and others of a neocon tilt used to rant and rave about Obama not securing that SOFA with Iraq back in the day, but now it seems that Trump may have gone Obama one better by actually having our troops kicked out by Iraq. One of the stupidest things about the Iraq War was that it obviously was going to change the power balance there and half-hand the country to Iran. Now it looks like Trump may have finished the job. Moreover, Trump complained about the Iran nuclear deal because it expired in 15 years, but now looks like they’ve just decided, what the heck, we got nothing to lose, this guy’s gonna attack us eventually, let’s scrap the deal and accelerate our nuclear program, which after all, is their strongest deterrent to regime change.
You said nobody thinks war with Iran is a good idea. I would disagree: Lindsey Graham has made his lust for regime change in Iran plain for years now,, and despite what he said in that 2010 article, regime change in Iran is not going to happen by airstrikes alone. In fact, there is nothing that will guarantee the unification of most of Iran behind their leadership quicker than getting bombed by the US. Look at the reaction to the loss of just one general, albeit a prominent one there.
Also, it’s not some kind of remarkable amazing thing that the Iranian leadership is more rational than Trump. The whole “wow those kooky Iranian ayatollahs, they’d likely launch a nuclear attack first and commit national suicide so they can all meet Allah” is a tired trope that’s been trotted out for years by the neocon elements itching to try out some of them fancy missiles and newfangled planes and bombs that we spend gazillions of dollars on to enrich the military-industrial complex. If anything, the Iranians, as inheritors of a culture vastly older than ours, seem often better at playing the long chess game than we do, and this may well be such a case.
It is hard to say what happens from here on out, but if this is a sign that Lindsey Graham has Trump’s ear, it’s bad news for all of us. If there is a terrorist response on US soil of any magnitude, I also shudder to imagine what steps Trump might try in such a scenario.
Phillip, let me just address one of your points: I didn’t say, or mean to suggest, that it’s a “remarkable amazing thing that the Iranian leadership is more rational than Trump.”
I’m not surprised when anyone is more rational than Trump.
Oh, wait: Maybe what I said DID sound like that, now that I go back and review the way I wrote it. But I didn’t mean that. What I meant to say is, Isn’t it ironic that Trump’s defenders — such as the guy I had just mentioned — seem to be relying on the ayatollahs to be more rational than the POTUS.
Which, I think you’ll agree, is not the sort of thing you’d usually expect.
But even many of Trump’s defenders KNOW they can’t rely on him to be reasonable…
By the way, I just realized I left out a major point I had meant to make in this post, which is an important reason why I’ve held back on commenting:
This has never happened before in my lifetime.
Or if it has, please tell me when.
Therefore, I don’t have any precedent to build upon in forming an opinion.
One of the things that enabled us to make quick decisions on the editorial board — so that we could get the pieces written and get the pages out on time — was that whatever is in the news, something like it has usually happened before, and you’ve already expressed an opinion about it. And the judgments of the editorial board, like those of the court system, were VERY precedent-based.
We’d go into our board meeting aware of what we’d said when something similar had happened. So instead of starting from scratch, we asked things like, do we still think what we thought before (sometimes we’d change our minds, but usually not), and is this enough like the previous situation to say it again, or in what ways is this different, and how should we react to that difference?
But I don’t remember anything like this happening before, so I haven’t worked through these variables before.
Sure, we’ve deliberately whacked plenty of people in recent years — remember Obama’s little list? — but they were outlaws, personae non gratae. They operated outside the legitimizing context of any kind of national authority.
In my lifetime, I only remember one instance, and that was fictional — on “The West Wing,” when President Bartlet had a foreign official whacked for his implication in terrorism. And if you’ll remember, Bartlet paid for that for the rest of his time in office. It became his own personal original sin, and he almost lost his daughter over it — something for which I don’t think the First Lady ever fully forgave him.
Just today, I’ve seen reminders that we DID do this a decade before I was born — in 1943, we targeted and killed Admiral Yamamoto.
But come on — that was in the context of a declared war.
And you know what? I’ve never been sure that killing Yamamoto was the right move. I don’t mean morally. I just had the impression that even though he planned the Pearl Harbor attack, he was a relatively moderating force in the Japanese command structure. Of course, he was a very skilled adversary, and our people believed the Japanese had no one of his skill to replace him — which would be a sound argument for targeting him.
But I’ve just never been quite sure about it…
Phillip always has such cogent comments. Of course people like Lindsey, John McCain and Joe Lieberman have long spoiled for a fight with Iran. (Remember McCain singing – “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” ) Lindsey’s latest comments are hardly consistent with a man who wants to avoid war. In an interview with MARIA BARTIROMO:
“Everybody wants the regime to change. You’d have to be crazy to want it to stay the same. It’s the largest state sponsor of terrorism. It threatens the existence of Israel. It supports Hezbollah with rockets and missiles, to destroy Israel. They’ve got American blood on their hands, Iraqi blood, Syrian blood. You know, everybody wants them to change.”
Lindsey SAYS he doesn’t really want war with Iran. His words say otherwise. And so do many on the conservative right. They are no different from John Bolton. They just craft their language in a bit more diplomatic terms, ALWAYS making sure to throw a bone Israel’s way.
Now we have this cluster:
“Secretary of Defense Mark Esper disputed a U.S. military letter announcing that troops would be repositioned within Iraq in advance of a potential pullout. Esper claimed he didn’t know where the letter came from and that it was “inconsistent with where we are right now.”
What is going on?
Apparently, Secretary Pompeo had been advocating for targeting Soleimani “months ago”. Read the whole piece in the WaPo.
Trump could urinate on the White House lawn Friday in front of cameras and Pompeo would
1) ignore it when asked about it
2) deny Trump did it
3) later say he had urged Trump to do it.
It’s his long established pattern. The guy is a stooge.
And to complete the formula:
4) Tell everybody it’s raining.
And of course this MUST be noted. Our whole involvement in Iraq was predicated on lies. Lies that MANY in the deep state knew (or at the very least suspected) were NOT true. So how do we believe anything out of the White House now? Trump is merely acting like George W. Bush before him. I was actually hopeful that Trump would be different. Given that the Iraqi government now wants all foreign troops out of Iraq isn’t it clear that the whole thing really is about imperialistic conquest? So when Neocons like Lindsey get on their high horse about doing this or that honorable thing to protect Israel don’t buy it. They were wrong before and they will be wrong going forward. I have nothing but absolute contempt for the Lindsey Grahams of the world.
“Given that the Iraqi government now wants all foreign troops out of Iraq isn’t it clear that the whole thing really is about imperialistic conquest?”
It’s a bit more nuanced. It was only the Shiite MPs who showed up to vote; the Sunni and Kurdish members, totaling just less than half the chamber, boycotted despite threats from Iranian-sponsored militias that anyone who declined to support the measure was a traitor. Also, the resolution doesn’t set a deadline for withdrawal. Basically, it’s Iraq withdrawing from the coalition to defeat ISIS, championed by Iranian supporting Shiites who are either allies of Iran or too afraid of Iran to defy Iran.
But hey, Trump wants to leave Iraq, right? Maybe this gives him the cover to do so. I wonder how it would play if Trump removes all US forces, ISIS reemerges and then strikes at Westerners?
As to that question: “Given that the Iraqi government now wants all foreign troops out of Iraq isn’t it clear that the whole thing really is about imperialistic conquest?”
How does Bud mean that? Is he talking about Iran? Is he saying it’s clear that their activities in Iraq are about their imperialistic ambitions in the region?
And how does the parliamentary vote bear on that?
“I just had the impression that even though he planned the Pearl Harbor attack, he was a relatively moderating force in the Japanese command structure.”
I just finished The Fleet at Flood Tide. It chronicles WWII in the Pacific from the Marianas Campaign (June of 1944) to the Japanese surrender (August 1945). It chronicles in detail the Marianas Campaign, the invasions of Tinian, Saipan, and Guam, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. It also very closely describes the nuclear bombing of Japan, closely following Paul Tibbets who was the pilot of the Enola Gay in the 509th Composite Group that trained for the operation for months.
There is a great deal of detail on the fallback calculations of invading Japan, which was a real problem in terms of casualties. Whether or not Yamamoto would have lived to then would not have mattered. He wasn’t one of the Big Six who dominated the direction of the war. He may have been a moderate compared to the Japanese Militarists who had the death cult ethos, but he wasn’t going to have been able to talk them into ending the war earlier.
Yamamoto’s death was of an enemy combatant in a declared war. His death had an effect similar to the Doolittle Raid – it raised morale of the US and sapped the morale of the Japanese, both slightly.
As for Soleimani…he was the leader of forces who had organized the killing of hundreds of American soldiers in addition to hundreds of innocent civilians. According to reports, he was “actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region”. He wasn’t going to stop plotting to kill Americans. He wasn’t going to stop killing civilians. Opposing military commanders are a legitimate target during armed conflicts, and we’ve been in an armed conflict on the ground with his forces for decades.
I doubt we will have an outright war with Iran. The Iranian leaders know they can’t win an outright war, and they don’t want one just as the US doesn’t want one. Instead, we’ll see the simmering hostilities that Iran has been responsible for for decades. There will be attacks on softer targets. Maybe shipping near Hormuz falls into that category. Maybe Iran will now think a little more before engaging in hostilities, or maybe not. Maybe it helps Iraq more easily shake off Iranian influence, or maybe it drives Iraqis into the Iranian camp.
For sure, the Iran “deal” is dead, but how sure are we that Iran was scrupulously following it?
I remember back in the early 2000’s when the Iranians were sick of Ahmadinejad and his group. Some unrest and desire to throw them out. Meanwhile the Bush/Cheney policy group expanded the Middle East conflict by attacking Iraq. The Iranians rallied behind hardliners and elected Ahmadinejad president. I hope the same scenario doesn’t repeat in Iraq and Iran, but it well might. External enemies are always a big boon to dictators and demagogues.
Just a quick response to Bud, going through the motions we usually go through…
This statement is not true:
“Our whole involvement in Iraq was predicated on lies.”
This is not true, either: “Lies that MANY in the deep state knew (or at the very least suspected) were NOT true.”
We now return to our regularly scheduled discussion…
From today’s Jennifer Rubin op-ed:
“Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff inadvertently shed significant doubt on the intelligence behind the strike: ‘Did it exactly say who, what, when, where? No. But he was planning, coordinating and synchronizing significant combat operations against U.S. military forces in the region — and it was imminent.’
Um, how can some unidentified something-or-other of unknown timing be ‘imminent’?”
It’s pretty fuzzy.
A side note not relevant to the point of this post…
We must have some pretty good intel on the movements of senior Iranian officials — or at least on THIS one.
I was struck by the fact that we not only knew where and when he was arriving, but apparently had real time knowledge of who was meeting him at the airport. Only when we knew it was an Iraqi whom we ALSO had down as a bad guy did the operation proceed.
It seems like you’d almost have to have someone IN the actual group to know that — in which case you’re risking blowing up your own agent.
No doubt the folks back at Quds HQ are trying to figure out exactly who was in a position to provide that precise information at that precise time to the Americans.
Maybe we were just pinging various individuals’ cell phones, but it does seem to suggest we had eyes on the target…
Actually, I suspect we know the whereabouts of folks like this much of the time. I really doubt it was a matter of getting lucky. In fact, I expect he/they knew we knew his/their whereabouts — and had operated on that basis for quite some time, with the established expectation that nothing would happen.
Oh, absolutely. From what I’ve heard, we’ve tracked him for years. We just didn’t choose to kill him.
It’s the specificity in this case that strikes me. It’s one thing to have basic travel info — “the target is in Baghdad today to meet with X.”
It’s another to know exactly where he is at the airport, and what and who is around him at the precise instant of a drone strike.
I think of it this way — when someone in your family travels they may share their itinerary with you so you’ll know when they get there and when you might here from them. But how often is there a specific moment at which you could say, “Aunt Suzie is standing 100 feet NNE of Gate 47, and the only person within 50 feet of her is X.”
And this is a guy who doesn’t WANT you to know where he is or when he’s there or who else is there.
So totally aside from knowing he’d be at the Baghdad airport at H hour, how did we have such PRECISE info about exactly where he was, within yards, and who else was there?
That goes way beyond merely tracking movements…
The means to get to that final step aren’t hard to imagine:
drones, real-time satellite imagery, deep pockets.
Someone like Suleimani is probably easier to track than a non-state actor simply because he’s meeting with other high-level figures whom we also track.
In any case, circumstances suggest that this high-tech assassination was motivated by our so-called president’s desire to distract from impeachment, not by any concrete imminent attack – which in any event could proceed without needing Suleimani’s personal oversight or direction. The killing was ordered – and the grounds for it were then back-filled.
The lawfulness of this action is in doubt, as this analysis of the previous airstrike indicates: https://www.lawfareblog.com/law-and-consequences-recent-airstrikes-iraq
And the strategic wisdom of it is even more dubious. The “we have no choice” crowd — on both sides — are the core threat.
From an article dated December 2, 2008 in the Guardian (citing Scott Ritter and others):
The intelligence on Iraq’s WMD was whatever the president and his cronies (including his erstwhile ally at 10 Downing Street) wanted it to be. Over seven years of UN-mandated weapons inspection activity, conducted from 1991 until 1998, had produced a well-defined (and documented) record of disarmament which, while not providing absolute verification of the disposition of every aspect of Saddam’s WMD programmes, did allow any observer interested in the facts to ascertain that Iraq was fundamentally disarmed from a qualitative perspective.
And from the Washington Post March 22, 2019
Nuclear weapons. Before the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, some intelligence agencies assessed that the Iraqi government was reconstituting a nuclear weapons program, while others disagreed. The NIE reflected a majority view that it was being reconstituted, but there were sharp dissents by the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the Department of Energy (which is the main source of nuclear weapons expertise in the U.S. government).
Or this from Hans Blix in February 2003:
“In his report to the UN Security Council on 14 February 2003, Blix claimed that “so far, UNMOVIC has not found any such weapons [of mass destruction], only a small number of empty chemical munitions”.
So whenever you see Brad asserting that there was no credible evidence that Iraq DID NOT have WMD prior to our invasion that is simply BOLOGNA. There was evidence and since none was found the dissenters were correct. So why keep bringing this up NOW? Just look at where we are in Iraq and the whole region. We are in this mess now because Bush was dishonest about what the intelligence said in late 2002-early 2003. Now 17 years later we are continuing to pay this very high price. Blame Trump for assassinating Soleimani based on “fuzzy” evidence and thus putting our people in danger. That’s fair. But this MUST be understood as yet more fallout from Bush’s mendacity.
“So whenever you see Brad asserting that there was no credible evidence that Iraq DID NOT have WMD prior to our invasion that is simply BOLOGNA.”
All I could think of when I read this was about Bologna in Catch-22, where Yossarian moves the bomb-line on the map to get out of having to go on the bombing mission over Bologna.
That’s one of the best bits in the book:
Bud… the intelligence you act on is ALWAYS the intelligence you choose to act on. There are always people in the room who doubt the information. At some point you have to decide which of several theories you’re going with.
So if you said, over and over during the past 17 years, that the Bush administration chose the wrong intel to believe, I’d have no argument with you. It’s your insistence that they LIED, that the American people were deliberately misled, that I won’t stand for.
So every time you say “Bush lied,” I’m going to say, “No, he didn’t.”
Call him an idiot if you like, but “Bush lied us into war” is never going to wash with me. It’s a dangerous thing to say, and so many people saying it has had a corrosive effect on this country, helping create an atmosphere in which Trump — he who discounts what ANY expert says as “fake news” — can get elected president.
I get so tired of arguing about stuff like this that you’ll notice I never posted about The Washington Post’s recent ballyhooed series, the thrust of which was, Top American officials have for almost two decades given an unrealistically rosy assessment of our situation in Afghanistan.
And of course they can produce quotes supporting that theory. But here’s the thing — throughout this period, I never had such a rosy impression. My general impression has been that we’re in something of a stalemate, and the reason we’re staying there is because a stalemate is better than the collapse that would follow our complete withdrawal.
It’s not a great situation, but preferable to alternatives.
But now the whole country (the portion of it that is aware of the Post series) is going about saying, “We’ve been lied to about Afghanistan!” And I just don’t know where these people have been that they didn’t have a more realistic impression over what’s going on there, all along…
And you just can’t have a functioning country with that kind of stuff being widely believed…
I should probably elaborate on that last statement: “And you just can’t have a functioning country with that kind of stuff being widely believed…”
Basically, no advanced civilization can function well without a modicum of trust. You have to trust your grocer not to poison you, and your plumber not to flood your house. We’re not hunter-gatherers who all have the same skills. We live in an economy that’s 13,000 years more advanced than that. And instead of living in small tribal groups where we’re closely related to everyone around us, we live in complex modern states made up of millions of strangers, and we have to have a measure of trust in them to do their jobs. Because no one can do everyone else’s job. We have to depend on each other.
Will the grocer slip up and sell you something that’s gone bad occasionally? Yes, but if we can’t rely on the fact that that hardly ever happens, we can’t go on without becoming nervous wrecks. The whole civilization would fall apart (which in a number of ways we’re watching happen now).
It was way back in 1995 that I wrote my Unified Field Theory of what’s wrong with our politics — a lack of trust. That is SO much more true today, in an era when there is very little basic agreement on fundamental facts.
I should have waited to write it today. Except, you know, I don’t have a column today.
Seriously, it was worth writing then because trust had, by 1995, eroded seriously during the years that I had been old enough to notice. Since then it’s gotten worse, but the handwriting was on the wall by 1995.
I could see we were heading in a bad direction. But I would never have dreamed that it would get so bad as to produce a President Trump. Never.
Bud… the intelligence you act on is ALWAYS the intelligence you choose to act on.
That’s a truism
There are always people in the room who doubt the information. At some point you have to decide which of several theories you’re going with.
Ok. This is an acknowledgment, at last, that there WAS credible evidence that Iraq DID NOT possess WMD. I’ll take that for now.
… only to the extent that “credible” is in the eyes of the beholder.
Of course, we’re ignoring the whole issue of whether WMD were key to objective of getting rid of Saddam. Which to me, of course, they were not.
But we’ve run around and around that thicket a few times already.
Good article from a well respected ex admiral, a strategy guy. Basically, prepare for worldwide stormy weather…
The world is VUCA’d up (VUCA = Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous). As predicted long ago, warfare is becoming asymmetrical. It appears the Iranians purposely targeted areas that would not result in U.S. casualties. They will continue to attack our technology infrastructure and use social medial to affect our elections. Welcome to the future …
Let me refine that for you:
The current US president is:
V – volatile
A – asinine
C – callow
U – unhinged
O – oafish
U – unfit
S — scum
I find myself wondering, Was this the best of all possible retaliations?
The Iranians shoot off a few missiles, and claim they killed a bunch of Americans. Except they didn’t. Both sides go away happy.
Except it can’t be that easy, can it?
I hope you had (have) a chance to read the article Mark shared, an opinion piece by Admiral James Stavridis. “Certainly Soleimani was a dangerous, smart, determined enemy of the U.S. Taking his skills away from the Iranian regime is a tactical plus in the effort against Iranian aggression and Middle East terrorism. Indeed, Iran’s ability to respond to Soleimani’s killing is now handicapped — the best person to imagine, plan and oversee a revenge operation would have been Soleimani himself.
“But this tactical success is not matched by an articulated strategic approach from the administration of President Donald Trump. Think of chess, a game the Persians refined: Trump has taken one of the opponent’s most powerful pieces off the board. Good. Yet there’s no reason to think he has a plan to ultimately defeat a clever opponent who still has many capable moves available.”
He goes on to discuss: “The effects of Soleimani’s death will ripple from Baghdad to Tel Aviv to Nairobi to South America.”
Speaking as the former NATO top military official: “During my time as the alliance’s top military commander, it became clear to me that the center of gravity of the alliance is political cohesion. Now that consensus is weakening, as many of the member-states start questioning the legality of this action under international law. Germany has already suspended the rotation of its troops to Iraq, and the entire North Atlantic Treaty Organization mission there — to train the Iraqi security forces — is paused and at risk. Unintended consequence.”
In this case I don’t believe we need to look at history at all. Just ask yourself if this benefits Russia in the long term, then you know where our president got this idea.