A war would be the ultimate public and news media distraction for the beleaguered Donald Trump, whose encyclopedic criminality and corruption have now prompted no fewer than 29 federal, state and congressional investigations. Despite there not being evidence that the U.S. is being provoked, when and if that war comes, it will be because the world's biggest schoolyard bully has targeted Iran.
And so instead of a steady diet of Trumpian malfeasance, there will be commentators breathlessly talking over footage of Tomahawk cruise missiles being launched against the Tehran regime, massive troop deployments to the Middle East (120,000 so far), and the first trickle of American casualties, which inevitably will become a flood because Iran's military is no pushover, a ground war would be catastrophic and Iran can rely on Hezbollah and other groups to launch terror attacks abroad and target U.S. troops in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The big question is whether Trump can be stopped.
A second question almost as big is whether a country that has become inured to war (Afghanistan has been going on three times as long as World War II, dude), keeping the Pentagon humming and politically hotwired defense contractors fat and happy, can be weaned from its addiction.
The answers to both questions are not encouraging.
Trump came into office determined to destroy the status quo between the U.S. and its allies regarding Iran, undoing an imperfect but workable rapprochement hammered out by the Obama administration. And after some stumbles, Trump finally has assembled a team of jingoistic war hawks who worship at the altar of American Exceptionalism. The team is led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, both willfully blind to evidence that Iran has put its nuclear program on hold in return for an easing of economic sanctions.
There is a common denominator among Trump, Pompeo and Bolton: None understand the concept of restraint and all are practiced liars.
So Trump's recent protestations that he doesn't want a war with Iraq are uncredible, as George W. Bush might say, and all the more so after a single rocket attack, probably launched by an Iran-backed Shiite militia, slammed into Baghdad's Green Zone on Sunday, prompting Trump to tweet that a war between Washington and Tehran would result in "the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!"
Complicating this volatile mix is that there does not appear to be a consensus among the three as to what U.S. policy should be except the vague belief that Iran must remake itself into a nation of which the U.S. can approve, the Islamic Republic's national sovereignty be damned. If that sounds familiar, it is exactly the tack the Bush administration took so disastrously in Iraq, where it could muster the support of only a few allies because it was so obviously the wrong response to 9/11 -- the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Given Trump's policy of alienating even America's most important allies, beyond Israel and Saudi Arabia, he can expect to go it alone this time. Long story short: The lessons of Iraq have not been learned any more than the lessons of Vietnam.
Oh, and Trump can't be stopped although there will be Republican defections in Congress.
This brings us to the answer to the second question and what I call the Doctrine of Perpetual War.
To the extent that political pundits even address the matter, the blame for this collaborative Pentagon-defense industry madness is correctly yet shortsightedly put on Dubya. But when taken in the larger context of 70 years of war in Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and, lest we forget, those big evildoers in little Grenada, Americans -- and Democratic pols -- seem to be okey-dokey with war even if they tell pollsters that they're tired of it.
A war with Iran will take a familiar course.
Pardon the term in Trump's case, but the commander in chief will experience a healthy popularity spike. At least until the casualties mount, the battlefield images become too grisly and the economy tanks. And the realization dawns that starting a war is much easier than ending one, especially in the volatile Middle East, which prompted military historian and conservative Washington Post columnist Max Boot to opine that a war with Iran "would be the mother of all quagmires."