As President-elect Donald Trump awaits his inauguration, as with all previous president-elects awaiting the two-and-a-half month lapse time between the election and taking office, the reality of delivering on campaign promises starts to set in.
Two promises—one on the domestic front; one on the international—require immediate decisions by Trump. Ironically, the latter, on which he promised inaction, mandates action while the former, on which he promised action, is better served by inaction.
On the domestic front, during the third presidential debate, Trump vowed, if elected, that he would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate potential criminal charges against Hillary Clinton.
When Trump is sworn into office, he will become president of a house divided—in large part due to his predecessor’s legacy. In Trump’s victory speech in the early morning hours of November 9th, he was a humble president-elect who, recognizing the country had been subjected to a hard-fought and divisive campaign, proferred:
To all Republicans and Democrats and Independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people. It is time. I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be President for all of Americans, and this is so important to me. For those who have chosen not to support me in the past, of which there were a few people, I’m reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country.
Taking office and announcing appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton will not start the healing process. While FBI Director James Comey has opened and closed, re-opened, and re-closed investigations against Clinton concerning her use of a personal email server—and despite the sense by most Americans she received a free pass for her transgressions—the best action in the interests of unity is inaction.
It is best to let a sleeping dog lie in this case. In any event, there is a very good chance Trump will not even be faced with having to make this decision, as President Barack Obama may well issue Clinton a last minute pardon to ensure that that sleeping dog does not come back to bite him for his own transgressions.
It is clear, as revealed in emails released by WikiLeaks, Obama knew and then lied concerning what he knew about Clinton’s private server usage. And, as much as Obama, who never really has been close to Clinton, fears such a pardon might stain his own legacy, that legacy would forever be tainted by further revelations of his complicity.
Therefore, unlike a gambler who may have bet on Clinton’s election as president before November 8, one can bank on a forthcoming pardon. What will be interesting is its breadth: will it be a blanket pardon, including charges arising out of the FBI’s continuing investigation into the Clinton Foundation’s “pay-to-play” policy? And, if so, will it cover others involved as well?
But, should Obama’s pardon be limited to the email issue, Trump, again, should not get involved and just leave its resolution—as with the private email server issue—to the judgment of the same FBI Director Obama himself appointed in 2013, James Comey. If Comey recommends prosecution, no one can blame Trump for the decision. The Clinton juggernaut has, after three decades, finally been stopped and should now, like an old soldier, “just fade away.”
While such an Obama pardon will generate immediate controversy, as did Bill Clinton’s pardon of international fugitive and tax-cheater Mark Rich, it too will just fade away. It took fifteen years for FBI revelations about Clinton’s “questionable” last day in office pardons to be exposed. Obama may also consider pardons for those members of his administration involved in the IRS scandal that targeted conservative groups.
But an issue requiring immediate action from Trump is the Iran nuclear agreement. While the deal paves the way for the mullahs to gain a nuclear arsenal—in five years if done legally; sooner if done illegally—Trump vowed during his campaign, unlike his Republican challengers, not to rip it up on Day One—although he has described it as a “lopsided disgrace.”
Plenty of support exists for Trump’s assessment. As one critic notes about its details, or lack thereof, it is a “nightmare… the only payment Iran makes for this huge strategic gain is postponement of its nuclear ambitions.”
Obama managed to get the deal through Congress by not calling it a treaty. As top U.S. negotiator Secretary of State John Kerry explained, the justification for this was, “you can’t pass a treaty anymore.” Thus, Obama circumvented the constitutionally-mandated two-thirds Senate approval by claiming what was a treaty, was not.
Obama’s rationale for such an agreement, at any price, was it would improve relations with Tehran. It has not: naval confrontations with Iran have doubled, Tehran has threatened to shoot down U.S. spy planes in international airspace, and the mullahs have announced plans to insert covert troops on U.S. soil.
In the wake of the U.S. presidential election, Iran announced it would not cooperate with Trump to reverse a nuclear agreement it considered to be a done deal, one irreversible as sanctioned by the the U.N. Security Council. Interestingly, while Tehran demands the U.S. honor a U.N.-sanctioned deal, the U.N. announces Iran has violated it.
On the same day of Iran’s demand, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog group, the International Atomic Energy Agency, announced Tehran has exceeded the limit placed on its heavy water (used to produce nuclear weapons) stockpile.
As has been done with every other U.S. president since the mullahs came to power in 1979, they will soon test Trump. He needs to show them “there’s a new sheriff in town” who will not tolerate nuclear agreement violations or naval provocations.
Trump has his work cut out for him. But a good start would be to play softball with Clinton while playing hardball with Iran.
Lt. Colonel James G. Zumwalt, USMC (Ret.), is a retired Marine infantry officer who served in the Vietnam war, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf war. He is the author of “Bare Feet, Iron Will–Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam’s Battlefields,” “Living the Juche Lie: North Korea’s Kim Dynasty” and “Doomsday: Iran–The Clock is Ticking.” He frequently writes on foreign policy and defense issues.