It Gets Syria-ous

USS Ross fires tomahawk cruise missile towards Syria                                             Robert S. Price/ U.S. Navy via AP


Its been fun and games for opponents and media deriding the inexperienced Trump administration’s floundering around as the new President has adjusted to the massive difference between being an outsider deriding leaders for their actions or inactions, and being the leader of the world’s most powerful nation and head of the world’s most demanding bureaucracy.  The President has been his own worst enemy becoming fixated and pitching conspiracy theories in a badminton match with opponents regarding Russian influence and spying, while simultaneously driving a premature health care process into a political muddy rut.  The difficulty of having a tradition of gut instinct for decision making rather than a carefully developed principled philosophy has made the President look disorganized and reactionary.  His opponents on either side of him, a position he created himself by suggesting he was the ultimate ‘outsider’, are circling like vultures over an assumed terminally injured animal.

This past week however the job suddenly got serious, and the President, under estimated every step of the way thus far, is showing himself to be tenacious if not a quick study.

The hardest skill to learn for any president is the ability to project themselves as commander in chief of an unbelievably powerful weapon, the US military, without committing the force into a role antithetical to its purpose.  It requires real dexterity and recognition of the levers and dangers of escalation, when the country’s vital interests are not directly at risk.  Do nothing, and the enemy sees only a paper tiger and a corrupted and dithering power.  The puny response of President Clinton in the face of Osama Bin Laden’s massive provocation with the embassy bombings and the attack on the USS Cole led to the Al Qaeda leader’s confidence that his movement could survive a 9/11 response.   Do too much and the Powell Doctrine of “you broke it, you own it” becomes an ominous trap for any President.  Iraq and Libya come to mind.

Syria has proved to be a Petri Dish for both modes of superpower involvement.  The Russians have inserted themselves in the center of the conflict, resulting in any failure of survival of the dictator Assad being a direct reflection upon their abilities, and being splattered with the casual brutality of the same dictator.  Assad, a survivor like his father, recognizes that for dictators who are clinging to power, no force vector is too horrible to retain that power.  Assad looks to chemical weapons (curiously presenting after Saddam Hussein’s stockpile disappeared) as the ultimate nondiscriminatory terror weapon of intimidation.  Having used them previously, Assad faced a President in Obama who drew a red line,against their use, putting his country’s very prestige and resolve on the line,  that in humiliating fashion a week later he withdrew and did nothing, fearing a quagmire he had no intention of risking.  The message was clear – Assad need only give Obama a superficial out, and the President would leave him alone.  A Potemkin village agreement to “remove” chemical weapons from Syria was promised by Assad.  Obama pretended he had solved the problem, to the extent that as recently as January of this year, his buffoonish National Security Advisor Susan Rice bragged about how Obama had achieved the elimination of such weapons from Syria.   Assad knew Obama would do nothing, and was willing to use them again, this time under the nose of a new president who as a private citizen disparaged President Bush for drawing red lines with Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

Citizen Trump and President Trump may well not be the same person, and this week the world took notice.  The President showed real skills in this week when the game got serious. Consider the balancing act.  The irrational despot dictator of North Korea Kim Jong Un shot a ballistic missile off, threatening Japan and the United States with an impending ability to secure a nuclear warhead on a rocket that could reach either nation.  Trump had to respond, and sent advanced weaponry to South Korea including B-52’s, having his Secretary of State announce that the US policy of strategic patience regarding such belligerence from North Korea had ended.  But was that just typical empty bluster from the US?  Assad took the signal to test Trump himself with the horrid chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun with Sarin gas, resulting in torturish deaths of scores of men women and children.  On Thursday Trump declared the action a crime against humanity, and responded promptly with a lethal measured fist full of ominous portent, blasting the airfield in Syria where the planes carrying the gas attack had based, while simultaneously meeting with the Chinese President regarding his seriousness confronting North Korea’s threat.  A powerful message reverberated throughout the world.  This President wasn’t blustering.  The North Koreans knew the Syrian bombs were symbolically pointed at them.  Assad’ s partner the Russians, realized their hegemony in Syria was at an end.  Assad reacted but knew his partners the Russians were going to not be happy with further escalation.   The Chinese, who have supported the increasingly deranged Kim dynasty in North Korea for the buffer it achieves against having a successful capitalist democracy being established on their border, took note that Trump would not use empty rhetoric, should the Chinese want to test him in either North Korea or the South China Sea.  The Syrians realized the next event would potentially end the dictator’s residual chance to stay in power.  The Iranians from a distance realized the next provocative act in the Straights of Hormuz against US ships may not be passively accepted.  The allies of the US appreciated the superpower had awakened from its lethargy.

Now that’s Exhibit#1  how you play the serious game.

The media hoped to control narrative to paint Trump as unhinged and somehow responsible for the refugee disaster in Syria, but the clarity of Trump’s approach resonated in profound ways that flummoxed the reflexive liberal media that always assume their superficial view of the world and the negativity regarding the U.S.’s role in it is shared by everybody.

The mess on the foreign stage that has been left to this President is going only get more serious, but at least, the world has been made aware, there’s a new sheriff in town.  The sound you are hearing from many parts of the world, is a quiet sigh of relief.

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