Trump at the White House in Washington, D.C., January 2020
Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

“It’s worse than a crime, it’s a blunder.” Rarely has one man earned this epithet from so many commentators for so many of his actions than has Donald Trump. Whether in reacting to the president’s sacking of James Comey as director of the FBI, his imposing of the Muslim travel ban, or his abandoning of the Kurds in northern Syria, pundits have found this line irresistible.

No surprise, then, that President Trump’s decision last week to assassinate Qasem Soleimani, the Iranian general in charge of regional operations, has again inspired columnists and editors to cite the words usually attributed to the French diplomat Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand. George Packer led an article in The Atlantic with the quotation, while Jacob Heilbrunn channeled Talleyrand in the opening line of his column in The National Interest.

Historians are qualified neither to judge whether President Trump’s action was a

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