Did the president jump the shark when he dropped those bombs?
Donald Trump launched 59 Tomahawk missiles on an airbase in Syria on Friday. The strikes came in response to chemical-weapons attacks on Syrian civilians. Strongman Bashar al-Assad denies using the forbidden weapons in the country’s bloody and protracted civil war.
The president’s amen corner turned into his peanut gallery overnight. The Never Trumpers, who react to the red “Make America Great Again” hats the way the Wicked Witch of the West responds to water, experienced epiphanies on the commander in chief.
Columnist Ann Coulter, former UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, and radio host Michael Savage seemed to resign their charter memberships in the Donald Trump Not-So-Secret Extra Special Super Duper Fan Club. The Wall Street Journal, which last year admitted, “Mr. Trump wasn’t our first choice, or even the 15th,” and the Weekly Standard, whose editor (grossly misunderstanding the cause of Trump’s appeal) recruited a candidate with worse hair than the Republican nominee to siphon votes from him in the general election, praised the attack.
The about-faces result from the president’s about-face on the Middle East.
During the campaign, Trump exhibited a positively Trumanesque quality when speaking of the various factions (to simplify, it usually boils down to evil vs. crazy) vying for control in the region.
“If we see that Germany is winning the war, we ought to help Russia,” Harry Truman famously said as a senator in 1941, “and if that Russia is winning, we ought to help Germany, and in that way let them kill as many as possible, although I don’t want to see Hitler victorious under any circumstances.”
Trump exhibited a similar pox-upon-both-your-houses attitude toward Syria, albeit one that advocated not helping either side in the country’s civil war, during his campaign.
“Stay away and fix broken U.S.,” the Republican nominee advised last year. He tweeted, “Many Syrian ‘rebels’ are radical Jihadis. Not our friends and supporting them doesn’t serve our national interests. Stay out of Syria.”
Alas, the president could not heed his own counsel. The change in outlook coming during a week in which he changed the composition of his most important foreign policy council seems consequential, as in one occurrence significantly came after the other. If President Trump can’t follow the advice of Candidate Trump, then he can at least look to his predecessors for guidance. Ronald Reagan’s ill-conceived peacekeeping mission in Lebanon and George W. Bush’s disastrous nation-building exercise in Iraq served as the great mistakes of their presidencies.
Shooting a few dozen Tomahawk missiles into Syria hardly seems the stuff of a president’s undoing. But military interventions, unlike drug interventions, tend to foster an addiction. One day, it’s sending flying explosives via remote control; the next, it’s boots on the ground.
And as with so many terrible addictions, a bad crowd eggs on the president to do bad things. When a New York Times op-ed begins with “President Donald J. Trump was right,” the Old Gray Lady’s punching bag must grasp he did something wrong.