- President Trump’s bombing of a Syrian airbase has been celebrated by his opponents, while his supporters feel betrayed.
- I supported Trump because he offered a chance of breaking with the US’s insane regime change policy – while acknowledging that there was also a chance he might revert to the militarist status quo.
- This missile strike is therefore not only appalling because it aids the Islamist fighters in Syria, but also because it suggests that Trump is a phony, who is going to adopt the warmongering policy he rightly scorned as a candidate. The odds of a Trump break with the US’s disastrous interventionist doctrine have widened massively.
- But Trump needs to compromise to stay alive, and has been clever at playing the establishment at their own game. It is still possible that he may revert to the popular isolationist foreign policy he espoused as a candidate. This post explains why Trump may have launched this terrible missile strike, and, above all, what his core support should do about it.
Has Trump gone mad?
Donald Trump has just presided over the bombing of a Syrian Arab Army airbase near Homs, in retaliation for the alleged use, by that army, of chemical weapons against the town of Khan Sheikhun, which is held by Islamist rebels (and Al Qaeda proxies) Al Nusra and Ahrar Al-Sham. The chemical weapons attack is almost certainly a “false flag” to draw the US into the conflict, as argued convincingly by Ron Paul and others.
One of the many reasons Americans elected Donald Trump was his oft repeated isolationist policy of no longer attempting to engineer regime change abroad, particularly in the Middle East.
Ironically, but unsurprisingly, Trump’s opponents are celebrating the attack, while his supporters for the most part feel betrayed:
The odds were never good
When I argued that Trump’s opposition to regime change and international military meddling was one of the reasons why mainstream media, particularly the BBC, were so opposed to him, I cautioned that it was possible that he might not stay true to the non-interventionist cause.
Following the removal of Michael Flynn as National Security Adviser and of Steve Bannon from the National Security Council, the missile strike suggests that the spooks have finally got hold of Trump.
The last US President who attempted to stand up to the interventionist policy supported by the military, FBI and CIA was John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated for his pains. It is of course the same agencies which are attempting to undermine Donald Trump now. Many, including me, hoped Barrack Obama might bring “change we can believe in” to US foreign policy. Sadly, he continued the policies of his predecessor, George W. Bush (which failed in Iraq and Afghanistan), in Libya and Syria. In Bayesian terms, if President after President, decade after decade, Democrat or Republican, adopts the same policy, however disastrous the results, your “prior probability” of the policy ever changing are low – however exciting or radical any particular President may seem.
Donald Trump is also faced with a very powerful set of opponents in any attempt to change US policy in this respect:
- The military and CIA as well as the think tanks that support their interventionist philosophy
- Democrats as well as hawkish Republicans in his own party (and even his cabinet), notably mad warmongers like John McCain and Lindsay Graham
- The press and television channels, which are almost unanimous in their support for regime change
So although the bombing is a great disappointment for anyone who has had enough of this disastrous regime change policy, a betrayal of our cause by Donald Trump was always a possibility which no rational person could exclude.
Playing them at their own game
There are a number of explanations which can be given for Trump’s actions, apart from the unpalatable possibility, just discussed, that he was a warmonger all along.
The first is that he had a human reaction to the latest false flag chemical weapons attack by the Syrian army:
As @partisangirl says, this is scarcely any better.
We can find a second reason by looking at the context in which this farrago has taken place. Donald Trump has been under pressure from allegations that he is influenced by Russia, with incoherent and unconvincing support for those allegations being provided by:
- The FBI’s investigation into connections between the Trump campaign and Russia (an investigation which has found no evidence, despite having been opened nine months ago, in June 2016).
- The joint statement by US intelligence agencies that they believed Russians had interfered in the US election (which provided no evidence, and has been undermined by the Wikileaks Vault 7 release in which the CIA admits to hacking into other governments’ servers and making it look as though “the Russians did it”).
Despite its flimsiness, this story has been pushed relentlessly by the media, giving succor to Trump opponents from both parties and in both houses of Congress. These opponents would have used any refusal by Trump to intervene in response to any chemical attack (whether fake or real) as a stick to beat him. Had Trump not reacted, another chemical attack would have been “manufactured” by the Islamists in Syria to crank up the pressure. By launching this missile attack, Trump has undermined his opponents’ relentlessly repeated criticism that he is congenitally unwilling to intervene when confronted with aggression, or atrocity. He can, in fact, argue that he is strong, and compare his decisiveness to Barrack Obama’s failure in 2013 to follow through on his declaration that the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime was a “red line.” (Make no mistake, this was one of Obama’s best decisions, and Trump’s criticism of it is extremely stupid – but then he is dealing with very stupid people).
On top of that, the insinuations by the intelligence agencies, slavishly parroted by the media and – embarrassingly – by many otherwise intelligent Left wing critics of Trump, have now been proved to be completely without foundation. If Trump really is compromised by Russia, or Russia’s tool, why is he bombing their ally in Syria and risking starting a war with them? Some of Trump’s opponents, in the aftermath of the missile attack, immediately attempted to claim Trump was still somehow in cahoots with the Russians, but the arguments have no resonance; they have been wrong footed. Whatever shred of credibility this story may have had in the minds of the most credulous should now be firmly severed.
What doesn’t kill us makes him stronger?
On that basis, Trump would be able to return to his non-interventionist policy in Syria (and beyond) from a stronger position, saying: “I did something – and now that’s enough.”
Of course, the Islamist rebels can manufacture fake chemical attacks almost at will. So if Trump now goes on to pursue a non-interventionist policy in Syria he will almost immediately be confronted with another one of these false flags. If he refuses to take the bait, as I hope will be the case, he would then be open to allegations of inconsistency.
But here we may find a surprising benefit from Trump’s disappointing and wrongful action of yesterday. By changing his policy in this way, and drawing praise for it from his erstwhile opponents, he has further legitimised any future u-turns. He can say, “you praised me for changing my mind, this case is different, I’m changing my mind again.” Trump has always been pragmatic, and changed his position (or stopped short of implementing his more extreme proposals in full) on many occasions. It’s one of the things I like about him. This “inconsistency” is consistent with the approach to negotiation outlined in his The Art of the Deal: you should never be predictable, and you should set out aggressive opening gambits which allow you to compromise, while still attaining your negotiating objectives.
His opponents, who previously had a very clear message (“he’s letting Assad get away with it”, “he’s Putin’s stooge”) now have to resort to Byzantine nuanced arguments that most Americans won’t understand (“he bombed Assad but really he didn’t mean it, it’s not enough …” “he’s risking war with Putin but really he didn’t mean it, it’s actually a ploy …”). Should Trump decide to resume his isolationism, as I hope he does, his opponents will have effectively been declawed.
If anyone is able to carry off an isolationist policy after this awful missile strike, if anyone is able to take a pragmatic approach and not be bound by a dogmatic interventionist policy, it’s Donald Trump.
Time for the Deplorables to stand up for peace
However, let’s not get carried away. This is a small crumb of comfort. I am truly shocked and crushingly disappointed that Trump has perpetrated this terrible act. But we should remember that, in so doing, he is only doing a small part of what Hillary Clinton was promising to do, in full, while running for President.
It is now up to Donald Trump’s core support to express their outrage vociferously, in order to sway him into returning to the isolationist policy which made him so popular as a candidate. They succeeded – against all odds and fierce opposition from the American establishment and “deep state” – in getting him elected. They should let him know, in no uncertain terms, that without them he stands no chance of re-election.