“We are going to stop the policy of regime change overseas”
“[Hillary Clinton] wants to start a shooting war in Syria in conflict with nuclear-armed Russia. Frankly, it could lead to World War III and she has no sense.”
“You gotta give [Kim Jong-Un] credit…I mean this guy doesn’t play games. And we can’t play games with him.”
“We will stop racing to topple foreign regimes that we know nothing about, that we shouldn’t be involved with”
“We should stay the hell out of Syria.”
“Start focusing on OUR COUNTRY, jobs, healthcare and all of our many problems. Forget Syria and make America great again!”
These are the words of the President of the United States before he assumed that office. There are dozens of quotes to pick from that suggested that Trump wanted to pursue a foreign policy so non-interventionist that it bordered on isolationism, so that he could focus on domestic issues. It also seemed abundantly clear that whatever his feelings about Assad or ISIS, he thought US involvement in Syria was a bad idea as recently as late March. So, what changed between then and now? Poll numbers mostly.
According to RealClearPolitics, Donald Trump’s approval rating two days before he launched 59 Tomahawk missiles into Syria was about 39%. Five days after the military action, his poll numbers improved to 42%. For the first time in weeks, the media loved him, he had bipartisan support (even Hillary praised the strikes), and no one was talking about investigations. Objectively speaking, it was a good week for the President, perhaps his best week. But then the glow began to wear off. Brian Williams was no longer talking about the “beauty of our weapons,” but like most Americans he began to question, “what is the broader military strategy?”
But there is something that The President, Sean Spicer, Sebastian Gorka, and the cabinet of deplorables will not tell you. There is no broader military strategy, unless one considers “bomb the shit out of them” and “take the oil” as strategy. Most of us knew that Donald Trump never had a plan to defeat ISIS, or any knowledge of international affairs generally speaking. But we thought we could assume, based on years of public statements that whatever misguided thing the President did, it would be “non-interventionist”. However, the administration characterized the strike as not a departure from “America First”, but more of an isolated humanitarian mission.
If we’re to believe Trump, this was just a moment of compassion spurred by Assad’s butchery towards his own people, especially the children. He said “It crossed a lot of lines for me. When you kill innocent children, innocent babies… that crosses many, many lines”. The narrative in the media is that Trump was shown these photos, and he was moved to act, with a little prodding from Ivanka and Jared Kushner. If it were true then one could argue that he’s a rational actor open to shifting policy as new situations develop, that perhaps somewhere deep down, the president does have a real sense of humanity and desire to end human suffering.
Here’s why that’s horseshit.
Trump’s first military action as President was the Yemen raid; resulting in 14 civilian deaths, including 8 children, one of whom was an American citizen. The President didn’t seem especially moved by that event, especially after he dodged responsibility for the loss of Ryan Owens, a Navy Seal, when he said “[The Generals] lost Ryan”.
Then there’s the American-led airstrike in Mosul, which was allegedly responsible for over 500 civilian deaths, undoubtedly dozens of those murdered were children. In fact, Human Rights groups in Iraq and the Pentagon have noted an increase in civilian deaths after Trump launched a more “aggressive” offensive in liberating Mosul, as many as 3,000 have died; surely hundreds of these dead were also children.
If Trump was truly moved by the suffering of children, then we would have known long before Assad’s latest chemical attack. For several years, we have known of the barbarism, the devastation, and the human cost of the Syrian civil war. Yet, it took Trump 4 years of watching the carnage from his gold tower to approve of intervention in Syria. Back in 2013 when we were first given a glimpse of Assad’s brutality, Trump tweeted at then President Obama “We should stay the hell out of Syria, the “rebels” are just as bad as the current regime.”
So no, Trump is not a champion of human rights nor a protector of the lamp of liberty. Trump is almost certainly still unconcerned with the fate of the Syrian people, and probably still can’t grasp the complexities of the civil war.
Let’s also not forget the recent actions in North Korea, which not only endangers our South Korean and Japanese allies, but perhaps in a few years, the continental U.S. Trump has managed to inspire the Kim regime to accelerate their nuclear program with “more missile tests on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis.” if necessary. Trump has also threatened to send an armada to the Peninsula, if he can remember where it is.
So, what’s happening with Trump’s foreign policy, not just in the Middle East, but with North Korea as well?
Trump has not been consistent, if any overarching theme exists in Trump’s foreign policy decisions, it’s that each provocation and escalation is an attempt to appeal to the electorate. A whopping 57% of Americans, including 40% of Democrats approved of Trump’s strike on Syria according to CBS. According to Pew Research, 64% of Americans support force if “North Korea got into a serious conflict with an Asian ally”. Trump has apparently realized that jingoism has more upside politically speaking, than non-interventionism.
If this all sounds familiar, a Republican President with middling approval looking for a conflict to insert the United States under the guise of protecting human rights, it’s because we have lived through this before. It worked out well for George W. Bush, who also lost the popular vote but was elected to a second term to “finish the job” in Iraq. Wartime Presidents get re-elected, so we have to be vigilant because we are witnessing mission creep. In Trump’s own words “I’m really good at war. I love war in a certain way”.
As much as the mainstream media (I’m talking to you Fareed Zakaria) would like to normalize Trump, we’ve got to stop pretending that Trump somehow can become more than what he is. He doesn’t care about strategy, he doesn’t understand the consequences of his actions, and he has no intellectual curiosity about the world. He’s figured out that America loves a good war, and he’s more than willing to give it to them. It starts with Tomahawk missiles, next it could be an ICBM headed towards North Korea or Iran, whatever polls better. There is no becoming “Presidential”, there is only Trump, and what serves his selfish interests.