My initial reaction to the airstrike against Syria was positive. Even though it was little more than a symbolic gesture, it sent a message to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
I am, however, still trying to wrap my mind around the event and what it entails, not least of all that it was a complete about-face from President Donald Trump’s stated position not 48 hours earlier. The turnaround, coupled with the removal of Trump adviser Steve Bannon from the National Security Council, is evidence that Trump is willing to listen to the very experts he once said knew less than he did. Washington insiders insist Bannon’s exit was a demand from national security adviser H.R. McMaster.
In 2013, citizen Trump declared that President Barack Obama must seek congressional approval before any strike on Syria. He even blamed Obama’s failure to bomb Syria as the reason Trump had to act. The new president’s hypocrisy on the issue is matched only by GOP congressional leaders who also criticized Obama for not taking military action against Assad. Obama went to Congress seeking authorization for the use of military force against Assad. They refused to even vote on the matter. Their biggest criticism was it was too limiting because it placed a three-year limit on use of ground forces.
Many GOP members of Congress criticized Obama for not taking it upon himself to act without Congress. This is just another example that when it comes to the Middle East an American president is placed in a lose-lose position. Not only that, but it is representative of the utter dysfunction of our legislative branch.
One positive is the realization that Trump’s military and foreign policy appointments are far better than his domestic policy choices. The latter are representative of the philosophy of Bannon, whose stated goal is to “destroy” administrative government as we know it.
Michael Flynn was obviously a poor choice for national security adviser, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson raised eyebrows with his ill-conceived statements on Ukraine, but otherwise Trump’s foreign policy and military choices have been strong and positive.
Describing those Cabinet picks as befitting of one Hillary Clinton might have assembled if elected president, columnist Charles Krauthammer said Trump’s foreign policy team represents the traditional American internationalism the U.S. has practiced since 1945.
Krauthammer sees this as good news because Trump himself is the polar opposite of his appointees: “inexperienced, untraditional and unbounded.” His foreign policy statements “continue to confound … and disrupt.”
Compare that statement with those of former Republican Indiana Senator Richard Lugar, who described the president’s foreign policy goals as “simplistic, prosaic and reactive.” Krauthammer says Trump is employing the madman theory, in which adversaries will tread carefully because they think the president is “unpredictable, occasionally reckless and potentially crazy dangerous.”
The columnist says such a “two-track, two-policy, two-reality foreign policy” may “with prudence and luck” have occasional benefits but is just as likely to offer a worst-case scenario that “needs no elaboration.”
Trump stated it was the suffering of the Syrian children that led to his policy reversal. That is certainly understandable, but the president has ignored the suffering children who have immigrated to escape the Syrian civil war. Assad’s sarin gas attack on his own people must make the president reconsider his position on Putin and Russia, who are obviously complicit in Assad’s actions.
Last, the policy reversal leads Americans to ask, “What next?” What do we do if Assad continues genocidal acts? I don’t know, but you can bet it will place the president in another lose-lose position.
Michael Adkins is the former chair of the Hancock County Democratic Party. He lives in Greenfield. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.