Donald Trump, the man who just over a month ago wanted to bar entry of all Syrian refugees into the United States, now wants us to think that he cares deeply about Syrian children. I don’t believe it.
What I do believe is that our president is a bad actor. He was a bad actor on his old television show, and he’s still a bad actor today. And he’s a bad actor in both senses of the term, which is to say his actions are poorly executed and morally questionable.
Addressing the nation from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, the president announced that he had authorized “a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched”. Trump was referring to a chemical weapons attack on Tuesday that killed more than 80 people, including dozens of women and children, in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun. The chemical attack had in all likelihood been carried out by the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
But what will the US’s military strike – a barrage of at least 59 (offensively named) Tomahawk cruise missiles aimed at a lone airfield – really accomplish?
According to reports, the missiles targeted only a single Syrian airfield and not Syria’s air defenses. In other words, the attack does not ground Syria’s air force. Nor did the attack strike any of the Russian aircraft currently bombing Syria. In fact, the Russians were alerted of the attack beforehand (who may, in turn, have also alerted the Syrians). The attack does not significantly degrade the military capabilities of Bashar al-Assad.
So why attack in the first place? Once again, we’re being told by military officials that their actions are intended “to send a message.” What nonsense this is. Will Bashar al-Assad now cease his murderous actions because he’s just been delivered “a message”? How are we supposed to believe there is any strategy to Trump’s actions anyway? Just last week, Nikki Haley, Trump’s UN ambassador, said of Assad: “Do we think he’s a hindrance? Yes. Are we going to sit there and focus on getting him out? No.”
What the erratic flip-floppery of Trump’s foreign policy really means is that America’s foes can easily manipulate the Trump administration into greater and greater military quagmires.