Yesterday evening, from his Florida resort of Mar-A-Lago, Donald Trump ordered the U.S. military to launch an attack on a single airbase in Syria. His rationale for doing so was the Assad regime’s chemical attack on its own civilians. He decried the loss of “beautiful, beautiful babies” whose pictures he had seen on television.
While it is certainly true that most Americans, indeed most people around the world, were horrified by the tragic images coming out of Syria as the result of the despicable use of Sarin gas by Bashar Assad on his own people, was this really the reason for Trump to do a complete 180 on his long-standing approach to Syria?
Was Trump acting from justifiable outrage or were his actions dictated by other, more cynical reasons?
Record Low Approval Ratings
Since his inauguration, Trump has seen the approval ratings for his performance as president steadily drop. Most major polls from Gallup to Quinnipiac now show that slightly fewer than 40% of the American people approve of the job he is doing.
His missteps began with his disastrous implementation of an Executive Order banning travel from seven predominately Muslim countries, including a permanent ban of people from Syria. Those “beautiful, beautiful babies” might be alive today but for Donald Trump’s own immigration policy.
The fiasco regarding his and the Republican Party’s attempt to replace the Affordable Care Act with Obamacare Lite didn’t garner enough support within a Republican-controlled House to make it to the floor for a vote. Attempts by the administration to cobble together an alliance with the Freedom Caucus reportedly led to a meltdown between the Executive and the Legislative branches of government.
Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, one of the few politicians whose approval ratings are LOWER than Trump’s, invoked the so-called “nuclear option” in order for Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court to be approved by fewer than 60 members of the Senate. The nuclear fallout from this significant change to long-standing Senate procedures will be felt for years and could well haunt the Republicans when, not if, they eventually lose control of the Senate.
Nothing like a little military action and putting American lives in harm’s way to rally support and improve your ratings. Trump himself accused President Obama of doing exactly the same thing.
Ironically, hard-line Trump supporters like Ann Coulter are dismayed over his attack on Syria and who could blame them. After all, he campaigned on the idea that voting for Hillary Clinton would lead America into a war in Syria. That would be the same Hillary Clinton who earlier on Thursday called for strategic air strikes against the base where the chemical weapons were being deployed.
Distraction from Investigations Into Ties With Russia
For several weeks, the biggest show in D.C. has been the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation. What began in response to a Saturday morning Trump Twitter rant accusing the former President of the United States of “wire tapping” his phones during the campaign quickly spun out of control. Both FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers both testified, under oath, that no evidence of any such activity by the Obama Administration could be found..
Then Director Comey dropped a bombshell when he testified that members of the Trump campaign had been under a criminal investigation by the FBI for months. For reasons still unknown, the chairman of the Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, paid a late night visit to the White House, reported on his findings to Speaker Ryan, then faithfully trotted off to update Trump on his discoveries. The members of his own committee, both Republicans and Democrats, only learned of his activities when he announced what he had done in a press conference.
Now Nunes, whose committee was investigating the leaking of classified information, is in hot water himself for doing precisely that. The House Ethics Committee has initiated an investigation against him for leaking classified information in his press conference. Nunes has now been forced to step aside from the investigation, joining Attorney General Jeff Sessions who also recused himself from investigating the Trump-Russia connection after it was revealed he lied to Congress about his own ties to Russia.
Just when it didn’t seem it could get any worse, attorneys for Trump’s former National Security Advisor General Michael Flynn, who served an entire 24 days before being forced to resign for lying about his ties to Russia, began shopping for an immunity deal for Flynn in exchange for his testimony. So far, no one has taken him up on his offer, which does not look good for either Flynn or Trump. Why offer immunity if you’ve already got the information from other sources?
In recent days, the White House and their media puppets such as Fox News, Breitbart, and conspiracy theorist extraordinaire Alex Jones have been “Desperately Seeking Susan” – their claim that while Susan Rice, while acting as President Obama’s National Security Advisor, requested that the identities of certain individuals collected in incidental intelligence gathering be “unmasked” or identified by name. Conveniently ignoring the fact that neither she nor Obama could “order” the unmasking, or that the review of this information was entirely within her responsibilities as the National Security Advisor, they have been calling for her head. National security experts such as John Schindler, who admits he “despises” Susan Rice, say she did absolutely nothing wrong or illegal.
Interestingly, none of the Susan Rice information “leaked” during the Obama administration when it might have proved politically harmful to Trump’s election chances. It only came to light after Trump took over the White House. Draw your own conclusions.
Nothing like launching 50 or 60 Tomahawk missiles into one Syrian airbase to change the narrative. Of course, Putin was warned in advance of the attack and no doubt passed on this tidbit of information to his Syrian allies.
Trying to Appear Strong in Front of China
Trump’s tough talk about China was one of the central tenets of his campaign rhetoric. China was a currency manipulator. China took unfair advantage of America in trade. He was going to make much, much better deals with China. He alone could fix the trade deficit.
Following North Korea’s recent sabre rattling, Trump said he was going to make China deal with the North Korea problem or America would take care of it ourselves. That he gave the order to launch the missiles shortly before sitting down to a dinner of overcooked steak and catsup with President Xi of China has all the hallmarks of a really bad Steven Seagal movie.
“Pass the potatoes please and, by the way, I just bombed the shit out of Syria. Thank you very much.”
Unlike politics in the United States, in China you don’t survive, much less make it to the top political post, by being stupid or easily deceived. President Xi is neither. He will no doubt weigh all the factors, including the convenient timing of Trump’s first foray into military action, when deciding how China will react.
Three things are certain. Trump’s approval ratings will go up. Most Americans recognize that Assad is a war criminal and his use of chemical weapons goes beyond the pale. Many people who have deplored Trump’s presidency will applaud this action, especially those who felt Obama did not act strongly when Assad crossed the “red line.” The Ann Coulters may moan, but the Sean Hannitys will find a way to justify their beloved leader.
Second, the narrative in Washington will be diverted from the investigations into Russia. However, by using military force against a foreign nation without the approval of Congress, Trump may have brought on himself a new set of problems. Already, members from both sides of the aisle have denounced his acting without the approval of Congress. Democrats and disenchanted Republicans may see this as a path toward impeachment.
Third, Trump did not take this action from a position of strength. His presidency is in major damage control mode. Unlike his predecessors, he did not even attempt to gain the support of a Congress controlled by his own party.
Trump did not act – he reacted. He may get away with it this time. But his way of reacting, “shoot first, ask questions later” without taking his case to the American people or their elected representatives, does not bode well for his future foreign policy decisions.