Defending Donald Trump

PS752 Responsibility

Is Donald Trump Partly Responsible for the Ukrainian Airline being shot down in Iran?

Answer: No

I've heard this argument from multiple sources on the left that Donald Trump bears some responsibility for the shooting down of flight PS752 in Iran that killed 176 innocent people. The argument goes something like this: Donald Trump escalated the tensions, which got people on edge, and then the accident happened; if Donald Trump had not escalated things, the tensions wouldn't have been there and the accident probably wouldn't have happened. Therefore Donald Trump bears some responsibility.

Whenever we talk about responsibility, or even cause and effect, we can have disputes. For example, do guns kill people, or is it the fast moving bullets? Or is it the will of the person pulling the trigger? Or is it the fake news that inspired the shooter? Or is it a lack of mental health support for people about to go over the edge? Or is it the fact that teachers are not armed? If any of these things had been sufficiently different the outcome would not have occurred. In this way they are all causal. Causes are multifarious and go right back to the big bang. If the big bang didn't happen, none of this would have happened.

But cause is not the same thing as responsibility nor blame. Being responsible for something carries with it the notion of human agency. If we want to look at all the ways to prevent something from happening, we can look towards the entire chain of causation. But if we want to assign blame and/or responsibility, we should look only into human agency. That includes actions, but also failing to act.

The proximate human agency that caused the plane to be shot down was the Iranian military person who made the decision to fire the rocket. I have no doubt about this.

The next most proximate human agency was the decision on the part of Iran's leadership to fire ballistic missiles onto Iraqi/American air bases. Irrespective of anything that happened prior to that, initiating a military attack against a superpower certainly put everyone in Iran very much on edge.

Why did they fire missiles onto American air bases? Because Soleimani was killed by America. So the next most proximate cause was the killing of Soleimani by America, a decision that Donald Trump bears responsibility for.

But why did Donald Trump do that? Because reportedly Soleimani was planning to attack the United States Embassy in Iraq. And even if that intelligence was flawed as some are now reporting, Soleimani has a long history of terrorist attacks and we can be almost certain he was going to engage in more of them.

What strikes me as exceedingly odd is that those on the left arguing this point are perfectly willing to skip the first two most proximate causes, assign blame to the third one, and ignore the fourth one as well. Why go back precisely three steps?

It might be easy to forgive the guy who launched the rocket, understanding that tensions were high. He probably feels absolutely terrible about what happened and I wouldn't be surprised if he ended up committing suicide down the road a few years from now.

It might be easy to forgive Iran for launching against American bases. After all, they needed to appease their people somehow. And they even warned Iraq ahead of time so that all the people could evacuate and nobody got hurt. And reportedly they didn't even damage the infrastructure much.

Why then is it hard to forgive Donald Trump, the third step in the chain? After all, Democrats have repeatedly claimed that Donald Trump should listen to his advisors. That is precisely what he did in this situation. Trump was advised by Mike Pompeo, who had been thinking about it reportedly for up to ten years. And Mike Pompeo is an incredibly intelligent person, first in his class at West Point.

Additionally, not striking Soleimani seems even worse as you can be fairly certain that Soleimani would have continued organizing more terrorist attacks killing scores and scores of people time and time again (This is a real life example of the famous trolley problem).

And further, Donald Trump could not have known ahead of time that the airline would have been shot down.

The choice to forgive or simply ignore the first two most proximate human agency causes, and focus on the third in the chain without forgiveness or understanding, seems to be a result of goal-driven thinking, the goal being to find fault with Trump to further justify a pre-existing hatred of the man. Now I can't read minds so I could be entirely wrong on this in many cases, but that is how it appears to me. This kind of thinking is widespread on both sides of the political spectrum, and even the smartest people fall prey to it from time to time because it is a deeply embedded human heuristic. But we can learn to recognize it and learn to correct for it.

As a final thought: Trump also said that if Iran attacked the 35 American Targets they had identified, that America would attack 42 Iranian targets. This counter-threat might be seen by the left as having escalated tensions so I would be remiss in ignoring it. But it seems a moot point because when Iran decided to launch missiles onto Iraqi/American air bases, the tension would have been extreme from that action alone. And failing to make a counter-threat could have been orders of magnitude worse, if Iran had gone ahead and launched strikes against 35 American targets instead of just two.