One of my duties as a teacher at Chicago Vocational High School was to help with security at the bus stop at the end of the school day. We’d station ourselves along the 87th Street sidewalk, one eye on our students climbing aboard, the other on a pack of teenagers across the street staring back silently, flashing gang signs.
Drugs, muggings, coercive recruitment and gun violence proliferated both on and around the campus. And the innocent teenagers among the 140 students I had each year feared for their property and safety while traveling to and from school.
I left Vocational years ago, and the city’s cycle of mindless gang warfare continues. If a gang member is shot in a drive-by, the victim’s gang exacts revenge. This, of course, requires a reciprocal act of vengeance, so that a Hatfield-McCoy type of feud is perpetuated by teenage gangbangers for whom simply a display of rival colors or hand signal is sufficient enough a motive for homicide.
The problem can conceivably be solved by an “adult”who perceives the futility and halts the cycle by negotiating a truce. Yet while truces were possible in the '70s and '80s when adult leaders exerted control over the Gangster Disciples, Latin Kings or the Black P. Stones, they are nearly impossible today because of some 60 gangs in the Chicago area, with hundreds of smaller neighborhood factions answering to no one.
I was reminded of the vicious circle of violence while following this similarly irrational tit for tat taking place in the Mideast: Dec. 27: The Iranian-sponsored Kataib Hezbollah military group kills a U.S. contractor in a rocket attack of an Iraqi base. Dec. 29: President Trump retaliates by launching airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, killing 25 of the Kataib Hezbollah soldiers. Jan. 1: In response, alleged Iranian-backed protesters attack and burn a section of the American Embassy in Baghdad. Jan. 3: Trump answers with a drone strike in which Iran’s beloved military leader Qassem Soleimani is killed. Jan. 7: Iran gets even with a missile strike against two Iraqi military bases housing American soldiers in Al-Asad and Erbi.
The nearly daily reciprocity of attacks between Iran and the U.S. in little over a week was a lot like gang warfare, but on a ballistic missile scale.
Iran put all the blame on Trump for abandoning the nuclear treaty and imposing crippling sanctions. While Trump attached blame to Iran’s treaty violations (for which there is no proof), to his predecessor President Obama for negotiating the treaty, and apparently also on the Iran hostage crisis almost 50 years ago (talk about Hatfield-McCoy!) which he referenced in one of his threatening tweets.
As with the street gangs in Chicago, the escalation in Mideast violence and maddening blame game could not be stopped, absent an “adult” with courage and wisdom, as opposed to separate previous occasions when Republican president George W. Bush and, later, Democratic President Obama, both declined the opportunity to take out Qassem Soleimani to avoid a similar feud.
Trump, however, passed on the adult choice and opted for aggression.
Why did he do so at this time? Especially when the whole world remembers when Trump decided not to retaliate in June 2019, after Iran downed a U.S. drone? What is the difference between now and then?
Precisely two things are different: Trump is in the middle of a potentially politically damaging impeachment trial, while also launching his 2020 presidential election campaign.
So the question must be asked: did Trump put American soldiers and citizens at risk and kill Soleimani to bag a trophy he could convert into votes?
Evidence for self-interested motivation by this president is strong, especially following the infamous phone call in which he asked the Ukraine president to do him a “favor” against his political opponent Joe Biden, before he would give Ukraine the promised military aid.
After his attempt to get a leg up in the presidential election by manipulating Ukraine, what would stop him from pulling off something similar in the Mideast?
For now, the back and forth bombing and missile attacks have been paused. An adult on the Iranian side apparently made the strategic decision not to take American lives in payment for Soleimani’s.
We hope it lasts.
Meanwhile, the decision of the president to eliminate Soleimani has had the following awful consequences: 1. The threat of terror against Americans at home and abroad has ramped up. 2. Instead of our troops coming home, 18,000 more American soldiers have been sent to the Mideast. 3. Our mission against ISIS is ended, since U.S. troops in Iraq must focus on self defense. 3. NATO and our other allies who were not consulted by the U.S. about the attack are further estranged, leaving us further isolated. 4. Worldwide air transportation across the Mideast region has undergone costly disruption. 5. Iran has completely disengaged from the treaty that had successfully blocked their nuclearization. 6. Fifty Iranians mourning Soleimani’s death were trampled to death. 7. One hundred and seventy-six passengers of a Ukraine jet were killed, when Iran mistakenly shot it down with two missiles while skirmishing with Trump. 8. Iraq’s parliament voted to oust U.S. troops, while archenemy Russia salivates to fill the vacuum.
Whatever Trump’s motive, his decision proved deadly and disastrous. It proved, also, the urgent need to place an adult in the White House.
David McGrath is an emeritus English professor at College of DuPage, a contributing columnist for Hayward's Sawyer County Record and author of "The Territory." Contact him at email@example.com.
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