The Mussolini Precedent?

Αssociated Press

U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland listens as he testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Trump’s peremptory firing of Ambassador Gordon Sondland, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a decorated veteran, and the latter’s innocent brother, Lt. Col. Eugene Vindman, should have surprised no one. They testified about a crime and the defendant, their boss, was acquitted (albeit by his minions). However, publicly humiliating Vindman by having a couple of armed security men perform a ‘perp walk’ tells us something about our Leader. Some opined it revealed the petty viciousness of a small man. I suggest it was a Freudian reaction to Trump’s own nightmare that he will himself be the protagonist of another perp walk should he fail to win reelection in November and lose the immunity of the Presidency.

These actions demean the dignity of his office and of his country. More crucially, humiliating those who tell the truth to power raises a more terrifying specter: an American President occupying a position with more power and lethality than any other in the world, surrounded by intimidated advisors and sycophants catering to his worst impulses. Trump has also undermined the Constitutional ‘balance of powers’ by intimidating virtually the entire Republic Congressional delegation. This situation has appeared throughout history and, although more prevalent among authoritarians and autocrats, has affected democratic leaders as well.

Vice President Dick Cheney and his fellow neoconservatives populated their offices with staff that shared their determination to democratize the world at the point of an American gun. They intimidated professionals who knew better, such as CIA Director George Tenet and Secretary of State Colin Powell. How else to explain Tenet’s “slam dunk” comment that his agency had confirmed a massive Iraqi nuclear weapons program in the face of near-universal disbelief among all the spooks who reported to him? Colin Powell failed to realize that he was no longer a soldier blindly obeying orders but the head of American diplomacy and the most respected Cabinet officer in the Bush ’43 administration. Under orders, he delivered his dramatic but largely inaccurate speech to the UN Security Council justifying the attack on Iraq, leaving a black mark on an otherwise outstanding career. Cheney and company also intimidated their Democratic opposition in Congress. In late 2002, Democratic House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt penned an op/ed condemning “rampant disinformation, partisan news sources and social media's tsunami of fake news” for trying to justify a U.S. war with Iraq. The November congressional elections hurt the Democrats who then turned around supported the invasion for fear of being painted unpatriotic in the next elections. Cheney’s co-conspirator, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, had a rare talent at destroying people. I personally watched Rumsfeld eviscerate my boss for contradicting a Rumsfeldian idee fixe on how to deal with an Arab leader. Rumsfeld ignored the advice and went on to make a hash of his visit as a Presidential envoy.

When we did decide to attack Iraq, Rumsfeld, confident in his superior genius, ignored the U.S. military’s contingency plans to use 300,000 troops for the operation and insisted that 50,000 would be more than enough. When the U.S. Senate forced Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki to tell the truth, i.e., that we needed 300,000 men to invade and occupy Iraq, Rumsfeld lost his temper, and publicly humiliated him. A few months later Rumsfeld sent insufficient forces into Iraq and when, we did realize the mistake, it was too late.

Adolf Hitler, thankfully, hastened the end of World War II by so terrifying his generals that they let him personally direct the Wehrmacht into one disaster after another in Russia and on the Western Front. Like Trump, Hitler was a very smart man making decisions on matters on which he was completely ignorant. German generals were literally too scared to wake up Hitler and tell him the allies were landing at Normandy. By the time Hitler woke up and took his coffee it was too late to launch the preplanned counterattack.

Mussolini, the autocrat whom Trump most closely resembles in his stances and outthrust jaw, as well as the way he operates, brought Italy ruin and destruction by appointing yes-men to every key position. (In fact, Mussolini blazed the way for our current Il Duce by appointing his son-in-law Gallezzo Ciano to run Italy’s foreign policy as Foreign Minister. Trump has gone Mussolini one better by appointing Jared Kushner to run EVERYTHING.) The Italian ambassador to Greece Emanuele Grazzi, a career diplomat, tried to improve relations with Athens. Ciano kept him out of the loop and, according to some sources, prevented Grazzi’s reports on Greece from reaching his father-in-law. He feared Grazzi’s reports would contradict Il Duce’s belief that Greeks would welcome him as conqueror. Instead super-fascist sycophants currying favor arranged for an Italian submarine to torpedo the Greek cruiser Elli in Tinos on the Feast of the Dormition in order to provoke war. Mussolini’s generals were afraid to tell him that they were not ready to invade Greece. Thankfully, the Italians attacked Greece with insufficient forces. By the time they realized their mistake it was too late.

Trump’s supporters insist that Trump, like Rumsfeld, Cheney, Hitler, and Mussolini, has such genius that he needs no advice. By the time, we realize our mistake will it again be too late?