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Saturday, April 08, 2017

A Response of Vanity

I knew it was coming. Trump's first war ended up being Syria.

Minutes after Trump hosted China's president, 59 Tomahawk missiles were flying toward their targets. Looking serious to match the part, with sweat on his brow, Trump invoked his best friend God, infants and American justice to explain to the world his surprise assault on a Syrian air base suspected of using chemical weapons.

Mr Trump was seemingly prompted to action by a video of the chemical attack on Syrian children. Children neither he nor his family - if their tweets are anything to go by - would want in their country, but what the eye sees can melt the heart, I guess. This was not the first attack during the Trump presidency nor the worst, but it appears to have been the one to change his mind.

It's not the first time Trump has changed his mind on issues or ideology, either. He has, after all, donated to both Republicans and Democrats. He supported the Iraq war, then didn’t, then claimed that he never had. Trump's pundits have, however, claimed he was at least consistent on Middle East policy: To avoid direct involvement in a quagmire that has extended into a regional proxy war. Although this intervention has been labelled a "one-off" intended to deter future chemical weapons attacks, and not an expansion of the role of the US in the Syrian war, for all intents and purposes this is Trump's war now.

Ironically (of the American kind), until yesterday, Mr Trump opposed such military action. He was elected to fix problems in America, not abroad, but as he acknowledged, he is now responsible for the situation in Syria. Beyond appearing decisive, however, it's doubtful he yet knows what to do about not getting involved in another costly Middle East quagmire. A cynic, conspiracist or pusher of fake news - like Trump and his supporters are - could interpret this decision as cover for his domestic fuck ups, and to silence critics over being a Russian puppet in one fell swoop.

Certainly, this is not the Donald Trump that Moscow expected when they cheered him in to office. Unlike President Barack Obama, who hesitated in 2013 when confronted with a clear violation of his red line, Trump did not seek allies, ask Congress for permission, or evidently worry about long-term implications when his Tomahawks took to the skies. This is why, rather than being reassuring, his sudden discovery of his conscience on Syria is profoundly disturbing.

This is after all a guy who gives off the impression he would detonate a bomb at a moment's notice so as to nuke the other side before they had a chance to respond. By swiftly ordering a military response agsinst the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Trump drew his sharpest distinction from his predecessor Obama, by shooting first and asking questions later.

In fact, when Trump ordered his first direct military action in a six-year-old war, some lawmakers demanded that he consult Congress in the event of an escalation - a recognition that he may have opened the door to unwanted conflict with Syria's government. As far as it's ever possible to discern method in Trump's madness, the response to a horrific crime is too important to be dictated by a president’s vanity, as seems to be the case with Trump - and the consequences could spin out of control.

Aside from looking good, it's not even clear that Trump has any aims, other than to win, to tweet conspiracy-theory hoo-ha, and to be liked. Not even Trump would use dead Muslim children to score political points; he just wanted to ask, "Who's the daddy?" When Americans become conscious of an atrocity - despite the fact that it might be the latest in a long line of atrocities, many of which didn't make the morning news - he had to respond because he's the daddy.

This is how major strategic decisions are made in the US today. I can't begin to imagine how the majority of decent, rational Americans are embarrassed by him. His populist paramours must be seething, their idyllic dream of an isolationist America blown to bits. Even his diehard supporters must be a little on edge. You don't know what he is capable of doing next. Just what you need in these times of instability.

Meanwhile, Syrian ally Russia has accused the US of encouraging "terrorists" with its unilateral actions (echoed by Iran) and that Trump was one step away from war. Moscow has promised to strengthen Syria's anti-aircraft defences, and is also closing down a hotline with the US designed to avoid collisions between their air forces over Syria.

China's position on Syria is much closer to Russia's than to the US, and the Chinese government will guess that the timing of the American missile strike was a blunt message that without more robust Chinese help on dismantling North Korea's nuclear programme, the next target for pre-emptive American military action might be on their doorstep.

This was a message to Beijing, Damascus and Moscow that there is a new madman in the White House; Mr Trump is, if you like, the "anti-Obama" and they should take note. The US envoy to the UN has already warned America may take further action after this bombardment. World response has been divided between those who disapprove of this (China, Russia and Iran) and the rest of the world who approve to varying degrees. You can see where this is heading.

The dominoes are falling and we are running out of time. Sooner or later, friends and foes need to recognise that the Syrian nation will be the sole determiner of its future. Or else it will be the first battleground of a new world war and the determiner to all our futures.

Trump's first war has begun amidst an Islamist backdrop of Europe's big cities braced for an upsurge in attacks, but as with the last century's two world wars, if there is a third it will be two Christian nations who bring us to the brink again.

But I don't think there will be very much that is Christian about it.

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