Wag the Dog conspiracies erupted on social media after the United States killed Iran’s top military commander and years-old posts from Donald Trump surfaced accusing then-President Barack Obama of preparing to go to war with Iran to win re-election. The prediction failed to materialize.
“Our president will start a war with Iran, because he has absolutely no ability to negotiate,” Trump said in a video posted on Nov. 16, 2011. “He’s weak and he’s ineffective so the only way he figures he’s going to get re-elected, and as sure as you’re sitting there, is to start a war with Iran.”
In the video, Trump went on to say that he was more militant and militaristic than Obama but “to start a war in order to get re-elected, and I believe that’s going to happen, would be an outrage. Iran can be taken down in many ways. Their population is in turmoil.”
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Wag the Dog
Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force, was killed early Friday morning in a U.S. airstrike near Baghdad’s airport, in an attack that is expected to escalate tensions across the Middle East. Iran vowed “harsh retaliation” as the United States urged its citizens to leave Iraq immediately.
Trump on Friday defended the attack in a tweet saying “General Qasem Soleimani has killed or badly wounded thousands of Americans over an extended period of time, and was plotting to kill many more...but got caught!"
The Pentagon, without providing evidence, said Soleimani, ”was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region."
But Twitter and other social media resurrected Trump’s old tweets about war with Iran, giving rise to comparisons to "Wag the Dog," a 1997 movie in which a war is fabricated in Albania to distract from a U.S. president’s sex scandal. Other tweets highlighted Trump’s memorable flub confusing Soleimani and the Kurds, and parallels with a delay in President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial after he launched a strike on Iraq.
In a series of tweets, Trump pressed his accusation that Obama was prepared to attack Iran.
“In order to get elected, @BarackObama will start a war with Iran,” Trump tweeted on Nov. 29, 2011.
On Oct. 9, 2012, he wrote: “Now that Obama’s poll numbers are in tailspin – watch for him to launch a strike in Libya or Iran. He is desperate.”
Even after Obama won re-election, Trump tweeted: “I predict that President Obama will at some point attack Iran in order to save face!”
Instead, Obama reached an agreement with Iran, in which Iran halted its nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions. Trump abandoned the deal once he was in office.
It is unclear that Trump, before he was elected, was familiar with Soleimani or the Quds Force he led. In a September 2015 interview with the conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt, Trump got confused, according to this exchange recalled by The Intercept.
“Are you familiar with General Suleimani?” Hewitt asked Trump.
"Yes,” said Trump, before hesitating. “Go ahead, give me a little … tell me.”
When Hewitt told Trump that Soleimani “runs the Quds Forces,” Trump responded: “I think the Kurds, by the way, have been horribly mistreated by us.”
“No, not the Kurds, the Quds Forces,” Hewitt interjected. “The Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Quds Forces. The bad guys.”
“I thought you said Kurds,” a sheepish Trump replied.
And among Friday’s tweets was one from filmmaker and activist Michael Moore, who posted an image of the front page of The New York Times from Dec. 17, 1998, which read:
“IMPEACHMENT VOTE IN HOUSE DELAYED AS CLINTON LAUNCHES IRAQ AIR STRIKE, CITING MILITARY NEED TO MOVE SWIFTLY.”
Fox Business host Stuart Varney asked Friday, “And where does it leave impeachment? Are we now going to try to impeach and remove from office the commander-in-chief who’s just taken out one of the world’s leading terrorists? That’s quite a question, I suggest.”