by Kevin Meagher
It’s not often an international leader gets to achieve their domestic political goals while making a bold foreign policy move.
But this is what Donald Trump has just managed.
In bombing the Syrian airstrip that was used to launch what seems to have been a chemical attack by Assad’s forces on the town of Khan Sheikhoun, earlier this week, killing at least 80 people, Trump has achieved three things.
First, he compares favourably with Barrack Obama, who dithered and backed down from a response to Assad’s sarin attack on east Damascus in 2013, outplayed at the time by Putin who offered to broker a deal whereby the regime would surrender its chemical and biological weapons.
Trump, the inveterate dealmaker, is clearly not prepared to give Assad wiggle-room. Especially as he plainly lied about dismantling his arsenal.
Second, he has immediately wrong-footed his home-grown critics who question his elliptical relationship with Vladimir Putin.
It would be an act of international high stakes jiggery-pokery, worthy of the escapades of Jack Bauer, to think the Russians were in on this and their harrumphing this morning was merely artifice, but we are in strange times.
A bit of sabre-ratting from the Russians at the actions of a US President will do him no harm at home.
Third, he has put space between him and his hard core alt-right supporters who want to stay out of Syria altogether as part of their isolationist ‘America first’ ideology. Indeed, is there a connection between last night’s attack and Steve Bannon, his chief strategist, being bumped off the Security Council earlier this week?
What Trump has succeeded in doing is channelling the fury and despair of all those who saw the appalling images of that chemical attack and demanded that ‘something must be done’ in response.
Well he has responded: Quickly, decisively and proportionately. The death toll from last night’s strike is minimal. The disruption caused by 59 Tomahawk missiles, considerable. The message, unmistakable.
‘Abide by at least some semblance of decency on the battlefield, or suffer the consequences’. The long-term efficacy and wisdom are moot, but most will be glad to see Assad punished for his barbarity.
His remarks, confirming the strike, were noteworthy. Tightly-scripted, sober and, actually, rather poignant and moving.
Describing the attack as “horrible,” he said that “no child of God should ever suffer such horror” and that as long as America stands for justice, “then peace and harmony will, in the end, prevail.”
Are we seeing the real Donald Trump emerge? More pragmatic than the campaign rhetoric implied? Indeed, someone moved to act solely out of humanitarian concern at the plight of maimed children?
Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut