Pundits have been rushing to try and figure out what Trump’s strike on Syria means. Predictably, there’s a lot of glowing praise for an action that did nothing more than “send a message” to Assad, though what that message is exactly isn’t clear. Here’s a sampling of op-eds from The Washington Post over the last few days:
- Fareed Zakaria – One missile strike is not a strategy
- Jessica Ashooh – Trump has an opportunity to right Obama’s wrongs in Sryia
- David Ignatius – Trump enforces the ‘red line’ on chemical weapons
- Michael Gersen – Was Trump’s Syria strike a moral impulse or a policy change?
- Jim Hoagland – The mystery of Trump’s character deepens
- E.J. Dionne, Jr. – Trump’s critics can’t write off the Syria strike as a distraction. History shows why.
- Josh Rogin – In Syria’s next big battle, the United States has a crucial role to play
- Marc A. Thiessen – The Democrats’ arms-control failure
- Richard Cohen – The Syria strike was the right decision—by the wrong person
- Eugene Robinson – No one should feel good about Trump’s attack on Syria
- Katrina vanden Heuvel – Syria strike follow’s Washington’s failed foreign-policy playbook
And that’s just one newspaper.
Like the Carrier deal, Trump’s strike on Syria was spectacle. The missiles he ordered to have fired on Shayrat Air Base didn’t destroy any chemical weapons, didn’t damage the runways beyond usability, and didn’t reduce Syria’s military capability. The press has been somewhat divided, but even Fareed Zakaria’s halfway-critical piece starts by gushing over Trump’s decision, and he echoed Van Jones on television when he announced that with the strike, Trump became president.
But since this attack is a major departure from the foreign policy rhetoric of the administration (which shouldn’t surprise anyone—when has this administration ever been consistent in anything other than incompetence?), it’s got pundits scratching their heads, wondering whether the strike is a policy shift. In plain English, it can’t be a policy shift, because that would imply there was any sort of coherent policy beforehand. If the administration can claim that it’s anti-intervention and then in the same week bomb a foreign country, it can’t be called policy.
It’s equally ridiculous to think that pictures of Syrian children touched something deep inside Trump that prompted him to act. He’s so vociferously against allowing Syrian refugees into the United States it’s hard to believe he actually gives a shit about them. After all, he did say this back in February 2016:
One man said he lived in Greenwich, Connecticut, where Mr Trump has a home, and there were plans to relocate Syrian refugee families there.
He asked Mr Trump if he could “look children aged five, eight, ten, in the face and tell them they can’t go to school here”.
Mr Trump did not hesitate and said he could, which brought applause from the crowd.
He said: “I can look in their faces and say ‘You can’t come’. I’ll look them in the face.”
As it turns out, it might not have been Trump’s conscience that emboldened him to act, as Michael Gersen suggests, but rather his daughter Ivanka’s:
“Ivanka is a mother of three kids and she has influence. I’m sure she said ‘listen, this is horrible stuff.’ My father will act in times like that,” Eric Trump told The Telegraph.
He added, “And by the way, he was anti doing anything with Syria two years ago. Then a leader gasses their own people, women and children, at some point America is the global leader and the world’s superpower has to come forward and act and they did with a lot of support of our allies and I think that’s a great thing.”
So there you have it. Ivanka sees some pictures on the television screen and runs to the Donald and says, “Daddy! Daddy! I saw a horrible thing on the fake news! Please make the bad man go away with boom-boom bombs!” And The Donald does it. Good to know that the president has the impulses of a Hollywood producer whose nagging child begs for some pop singer to be in his new movie.
And I like Eric Trump’s other statement about Trump being “anti doing anything”—which perfectly sums up Trump’s nonexistent work ethic—regarding Syria two years ago when a much larger chemical attack took place, but Trump was vehemently against taking action. It’s almost like Trump’s hypocritical on this point.