Could explosive packages be a case of Wag the Dog?

FILE - In this Oct. 15, 2018, file photo, a Turkish forensic police officer searches for evidence as he works on the rooftop of the Saudi Arabia's Consulate in Istanbul. The official Saudi statements on the fate of journalist Jamal Khashoggi changed several times since he disappeared after entering his country's consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel, File)

The US is understood to be a divided country, but few could have imagined that two weeks before the midterm congressional election, six of the top figures in the Democratic Party would be sent live explosive devices.

These developments rocked the US this week, and once again President Donald Trump blamed the mainstream media for the hatred permeating American society. There was no introspection about his campaign hyperbole and ongoing attacks against senior Democrats, from advocating locking up “crooked Hillary” to attacks on former Democratic Party Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz as having a “very low IQ.” Just last week Trump had praised the violent attack on a Guardian journalist.

Is it any wonder that a maverick member of Trump’s base went rogue by sending out pipe bombs to Wasserman-Schultz and a number of other high profile Democrats? On Monday an explosive device was delivered to the home of billionaire philanthropist George Soros in New York. Throughout the Trump campaign in 2016 Trump had levied vitriol against Soros, fomenting a particularly volatile atmosphere. Just last week Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz had made wild accusations that Soros was funding the caravan of migrants moving towards the US border.

On Tuesday an explosive device was sent to the New York home of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Wednesday to the home of the former President Barak Obama in Washington. The lethal package intended for former Vice President Joe Biden got lost in the mail, and the one directed to Schultz had initially been sent to former Attorney General Eric Holder, who was considering running for the presidency in 2020.

The former CIA Director Joe Brennan also had a similar explosive package delivered to him, but at the CNN offices. Brennan had had a falling out with Trump after publicly criticising him, which resulted in Trump revoking his security clearance. Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters was also a target this week, again one of Trump’s detractors who had criticised him on his response to the death of a soldier in her constituency.

Trump was quick to distance himself from the terrorist incidents, waxing lyrical about the need for the country to come together and unify in such difficult times.

One would be forgiven for thinking that this was just the type of distraction Trump needed – an opportunity to be presidential after an unenviable week of foreign policy gaffes when it came to responding to the brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. How quickly the pipe bombs managed to change the narrative dominating the headlines, without any of the parcels having been successfully delivered to the intended recipient.

Could the pipe bomb phenomena have been a classic case of Wag the Dog? Wag the Dog was a 1997 film in which a spin doctor and Hollywood producer fabricated a war to distract voters from a presidential sex scandal. The movie was released one month before the outbreak of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and the subsequent bombing of the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Sudan by the Clinton administration in August 1998, which prompted the media to draw comparisons between the film and reality. The comparison was repeated in December 1998 when the administration initiated a bombing campaign of Iraq just prior to Clinton’s impeachment over the Lewinsky scandal.

Two weeks before a midterm congressional election was simply not the time a president could afford a monumental scandal about the gruesome killing of a prominent Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist who was based in the US. Particularly when the perpetrators emanated from the belly of one of the US Government’s closest allies in the Middle East – Saudi Arabia. The administration was scrambling to implement damage control and distract the media and the public away from the Saudi nightmare, to a riveting drama closer to home.

It all seemed so orchestrated and to be honest, almost fake. The sender of the explosive parcels had each one sent in a similar manila envelope, lined with bubble wrap and with similar labelling. How convenient that none of the parcels ever reached their intended recipient, and no one was ever hurt?

It really seemed like nothing but a distraction from one of the most significant scandals to hit contemporary foreign relations, and one of the most fundamentally shocking of the modern age. Trump found it hard to conceal his loyalty to the Saudis, and all his public admonitions failed miserably as Turkish authorities drip fed the reality of Khashoggi’s death.

Interesting how at the time we were being fed the pipe bomb story, we never drew a connection with how it could possibly have been an intended distraction from the gravely serious matter at hand, which was a public relations disaster. Or is that just too conspiratorial?

Shannon Ebrahim is the Foreign Editor for the Independent Media Group