There’s only one Signal this week: Trump’s impetuous decision to order the assassination of Iranian general Qassim Suleimani has set in motion a crisis that could rapidly escalate into all-out war.
That the administration followed up by saying it had killed Suleimani to “stop a war” showed either (1) a cretinous inability to imagine how the Iranians would react, or (2) a cartoonish, superhero-type understanding of how wars are started and stopped. It seems that in the Trumpian imagination, entire regions of the earth are set aflame by individual bad guys, who don’t bother to share their demonic plans with anyone else and whose war plans can thus be stopped cold by a single well-placed drone attack. Or, (3) most likely, it reflected a belief that Trump’s base will believe anything, no matter how preposterous or mind-numbingly stupid, so long as he tweets it with enough exclamation points.
This is a crisis with no visible off-ramp. The assassination, likely ordered by Trump as a Götterdämmerung distraction from his impeachment and upcoming Senate trial, was such a brazen violation of international norms, such a clear casus belli, that it has left the Iranian leadership—its moderates marginalized, its hard-liners resurgent—with no choice but to respond. And any Iranian response will, inevitably, trigger further US military reprisals.
It’s hard to imagine how de-escalation occurs in such an environment, and all too easy to imagine an unstable, megalomaniacal Trump, furious at Iran’s refusal to kowtow, unleashing a nuclear attack or some other horrifying war crime out of pique and a desire for vengeance.
In this xenophobic environment, it’s no surprise that reports are circulating of US officials harassing Iranian-Americans. On Saturday night, scores of Iranian-Americans returning from a concert in Vancouver, Canada, reported being held for nearly a dozen hours of questioning by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents at the ironically named Peace Arch Border Crossing at the town of Blaine, Washington. According to Masih Fouladi, executive director of the Washington chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), they were “questioned about their status, when they originally came to the US, when they naturalized, were they pro-Revolution, what their education background was, the courses they took.” Eventually, in the dead of night, the men and women were released.
CBP refused to talk directly to CAIR, but on Sunday the agency tweeted a denial of the allegations. It was, however, a non-denial denial. The agency denied detaining the Iranian-Americans. Immigration attorneys say this was not because it hadn’t held them for an extended period, but because, in agency argot, “secondary questioning,” even for many hours, isn’t technically “detention.” Meanwhile, CAIR avers that an anonymous CBP source told them that the Department of Homeland Security had issued a national order to report and detain people of Iranian origin attempting to enter the country who seemed “suspicious” or “adversarial.”
That’s the sort of catch-all that ought to terrify anyone who cares about civil liberties and the rule of law.
There’s one other Signal: As Australia burns, in the latest chapter of climate change–related catastrophe, the Trump administration is readying rules that would bar federal agencies from considering climate change when assessing the environmental impact of new infrastructure projects.
And the Noise? The sound of Trump, holidaying while the world goes up in flames, thwacking one golf ball after the next at Mar-a-Lago. Frankly, I’d prefer to hear Nero fiddling.