“Saved Your Life!”

It was the punchline of a comedy routine. First you shoved another kid into the street. Then you yanked him back onto the sidewalk and spoke those mirth-making words. Trust me, it was considered quite the laugh riot by some members of my peer group when I was roughly twelve and making my way from home to junior high school in New York City.

Donald Trump’s approach to foreign policy has brought back memories of that gag. One minute he’s raising the specter of armed conflict with North Korea; the next he’s announcing the dawn of a new age of peace and denuclearization and telling us about the “beautiful letters” that have passed between him and Kim Jong Un since they “fell in love.” America’s dealings with China have followed a similar course, jerking us into and out of a state of trade war a few times already.

And now Iran: hours after threatening to hit Iranian targets “harder than they have ever been hit before” and declaring cultural sites explicitly on limits (“They’re allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people, and we’re not allowed to touch their cultural sites? It’s doesn’t work that way.”), the President informs us that Iran is “standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world.” How exactly have the Iranians signaled their renewed civility? By not quite managing to kill any U.S. soldiers in their retaliatory attack on an American military target in Iraq. President Trump declares himself willing, in gratitude, to “embrace peace with all who seek it.”

Our salvation comes with an asterisk this time around, however. Iranian forces, we learn – while on high alert “at a time of crisis caused by U.S. adventurism,” as their foreign minister put it – have accidentally shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane, killing all 176 people aboard.

That plot twist could complicate the reaction of our neighbors to the North. Friends and relatives of the 57 Canadians on the doomed flight will be eager to see the much-cited but still-secret evidence of imminent evil intent that led to the drone-killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani – the deed that set the current chain of events in motion. Ukrainians, too, may be stirred to question the necessity of that act, ordered by President Trump to the reported great surprise of his national security team. Even if they give America the benefit of the doubt, the people of Ukraine may wonder why the stars have once again aligned to turn their country into a fly-by victim of Donald Trump’s festering grievances. Last year, a shot aimed at Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden blindsided them; now they would seem to be collateral damage in a tussle between Trump and Nancy Pelosi. That would be a fair conclusion, at any rate, if we suppose that Trump’s unexpected order had anything whatever to do with a desire to distract from the impeachment proceedings and his crooked deeds.

The President has, in this latest instance, put his own stamp on the save-your-life joke. It starts out the old preadolescent way, with him shoving America out into the street; then a schoolbus swerves to avoid us and collides with a tanker truck, setting off a neighborhood conflagration. But hey, it’s not our lookout. We’re back on the sidewalk, safe and sound, thanking our dear leader for once again protecting us from harm. That’s how the story always ends when Donald Trump is telling it.

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