David Frum: Soleimani deserved to die but it's Trump's fault Iran shot down that jet (Update)

I confess I did not see this twist coming. After the report earlier today that Iran is believed to have shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet killing 176 people, I expected someone on the left, probably Michael Moore, to blame Trump anyway. What I did not expect was that this tortured explanation would become so widespread it’s hard to keep track of all the people making this argument. Writing at the Atlantic, Frum opens by putting the blame on President Trump:

No American paid a price for President Donald Trump’s decision to kill Iran’s Qassem Soleimani. But it looks like 176 other people did, including 63 Canadian citizens and many more Iranian nationals en route to Canada…

Now the harrowing stories of the lost—students returning to university in Canada, newlyweds, children—are filling Canadian media, and will soon claim the attention of the world.

He then admits that Iran is actually to blame, not only for shooting down the plane but for creating the conditions that led to the apparent accident:

These stories point an accusatory finger, first, at the Iranian government. Iranian military authorities apparently fired at a plane cleared to fly in their airspace that had lifted off only minutes before from the Tehran airport. It was the Iranian authorities, too, who set in motion the cycle of attack and response that culminated with the destruction of a civilian airliner.

And then comes the turn in which all of this is still somehow the fault of President Trump:

In the first relief that Iranian retaliation had not done more damage, the president accepted accolades for his leadership. You just cannot admit that Trump was right for once became a pro-administration talking point. Yet now we are confronted with the full measure of the damage, the toll—however unintended—of open hostilities.

Trump, of course, disclaims all responsibility, as he habitually does. He’s always been a credit-grabber and a responsibility-dodger. “It was flying in a pretty rough neighborhood,” the president told reporters this morning about the downed airplane.

Trump is right. The airport shouldn’t have been open on a night when Iran knew it was retaliating against the United States with missiles. Given what happened, Iran was clearly was concerned about a US response. So why allow the airport to remain open as if nothing else were happening? The next day, after the Iranian missile strike and the crash, but before the two were shown to be connected, airlines stopped flying over Iranian and Iraqi airspace as a precaution. Why didn’t Iran take that same precaution?

Nor is it true that US action against Soleimani led to this tragic incident. What if, instead of killing Soleimani, Trump had carried out some other strike in response to the Iranian led attack on the US Embassy in Iraq. Say, for instance, that he had fired additional missiles at Kataib Hezbollah camps, killing more members of the Iranian backed militia. Might Iran still have responded with a missile attack on the nearest bases where US soldiers are stationed? And if so, couldn’t the same accident have happened. The point is that this really isn’t about the specific actions taken by the US so much as the fact that the US responded to the Iranian provocation at our embassy at all. Here’s Frum’s conclusion:

Soleimani abundantly deserved to die a violent death. The 176 innocents he took with him did not. President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama both flinched from doing justice to Soleimani, because they asked, “And what will happen next?” Trump did not ask that question. Families over half the world are now grieving a consequence that Trump’s ego forbade him to imagine or ponder.

I think some in the media and on the left were so eager for Trump to pay a price for the strike on Soleimani that they couldn’t quite come down from the anticipation of it. The media kept warning us that there would be future victims from his decision. Iranian threats to extract bloody vengeance were eagerly repeated in the US media. And then the Iranian missile response was a kind of disappointment, a face-saving maneuver with no victims for which the American president could be blamed. But the moment the downed airliner could be connected to the Iranian attack, even as an accident, the media suddenly had the story it had been anticipating.

To be clear, I don’t think Iran is done retaliating. I think it’s very possible there will be real victims at some point, either dead or kidnapped, in response to the killing of Soleimani. But we’re not there yet. What many on the left are doing today is a disgusting display and one that suggests Trump Derangement Syndrome is very real.

In any case, the US didn’t cause this tragedy, Iran did. Iran was responsible in an immediate sense, it was responsible (as Frum admits) in the sense that it instigated the escalating attacks in the first place, and it was responsible in the sense that it failed to take reasonable precautions knowing what was happening in its airspace that night. And yet the desire to blame Trump at every turn is so compelling that Frum (and many others) are trying to lay this at Trump’s feet.

Update: This goes to the point I was making about Iran leaving its airport open while conducting a missile strike. The US issued a no-fly order over Iran hours before the passenger plane was shot down:

A Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) warning of potential hazards along flight routes in the war-torn region was first issued Tuesday evening by the FAA, just before a Ukrainian plane crashed near Tehran. U.S. officials believe Iran may have mistakenly shot down the plane in its airspace as tensions with the United States hit new levels.

“Our NOTAMs were published roughly three hours before the accident,” an FAA spokesman confirmed to the Washington Free Beacon Thursday.