Yeah, of all the surprises Trump has pulled on his base thus far as president, last night’s strike was the most surprising. Not rescinding DACA was a mild surprise after he promised to do so during the campaign, but Trump has been saying encouraging things about legalizing DREAMers for months. That one wasn’t out of left field. The House GOP health-care bill was more of a surprise given how it would have increased costs for parts of Trump’s working-class base, but in the end it didn’t pass. No harm, no foul.
Bombing Assad, though? Trump spent the summer of 2013 screeching that the U.S. should avoid the Syrian quagmire at all costs. He distinguished himself during the Republican primary as a skeptic of NATO specifically and interventionism more broadly (well, sometimes), starting with the U.S. misadventures in Iraq and Libya. Like most nationalists, he seemed to disdain foreign entanglements as a rule, on the theory that they can take care of their business over there and we’ll take care of ours over here. There’s too much “American carnage” to deal with to worry about what Assad’s up to. If nothing else, an “America First” ethos should mean a higher bar for showing that American national interests are truly at stake in a foreign conflict before intervening, with no license for strictly humanitarian bombings.
Now here we are. And on top of everything else, of all the dictators to make an example of, Trump chose a client of nationalists’ favorite foreign strongman, Vladimir Putin, sabotaging the great U.S./Russia detente. His right-wing populist base — nationalists, paleocons, isolationists, alt-righters, Russia groupies, and Assad apologists who see him as a bulwark against jihadism — is horrified. So are prominent nationalists here and abroad, starting with his pal Nigel Farage:
“I think back to Libya a few years ago and arguably we made the world worse as a result of our intervention. So I have to say, I woke up to this news this morning very, very surprised.
“I think a lot of Trump voters will be really scratching their heads hard and asking “where does this go from here?””…
“But it does seem to me that perhaps to begin with, we could have done with rather more certainty about whether it was Assad that used that horrible chemical agent, and secondly, one of the big, big picture games here was to try to at least have an improvement and understanding of relations with Putin’s Russia.
“Particularly given that we all view Isis as being a terrible threat to us and I just worry Nick that this intervention damages that relationship.
“I’m a little surprised because he indicated on several occasions that he didn’t want to make the U.S. the world’s policeman, and yet, that’s exactly what he has done,” she told France 2 television. “Is it too much to ask for to wait for the results of an international investigation before doing such strikes? What I want is to avoid the same scenario as the one we saw in Iraq, in Libya, which led to chaos.”
Interesting how both aren’t content to criticize Trump but feel obliged to question Assad’s culpability in the chemical attack, never mind that U.S. officials told NBC News they watched the Syrian planes that carried out the bombing on radar and saw the bombs fall. In a test of credibility between Trump on the one hand and Putin and Assad on the other, Farage and Le Pen have made their choice.
Steve Bannon naturally also opposed the airstrike, per Gabriel Sherman, “on the grounds that it doesn’t advance Trump’s America First doctrine.” Jared Kushner supported it, and Jared tends to get his way. There are many more important implications to an escalating war in Syria than how it might affect White House personnel, but if Assad does do something to defy Trump and Trump acts again, it might cause the nationalists in the West Wing to bail out. As one source told the Atlantic about the Bannon/Kushner feud, “If the Trump administration becomes a pale copy of the Bush administration, then there was no reason for this election.” Why would Steve Bannon want to wreck his populist cachet online by ending up a de facto spokesman for a long, meandering humanitarian intervention in Syria?
Via the Daily Rushbo, here’s Rush Limbaugh today trying to soothe disconsolate Trumpers by theorizing that Obama’s wussiness subtly conditioned Americans to become weak-ass pacifists and now Trump’s bombing is setting us right. (Never mind that Obama continued the war in Afghanistan for eight years, bombed Libya, escalated in Yemen, and droned hundreds of people, guilty and innocent.) Is that why practically everyone less hawkish than John McCain and Lindsey Graham opposed bombing Assad in 2013? Because we had been feminized by Obama or whatever? Or was it because, then as now, there’s no remotely good outcome available to us in Syria, especially with dangerous adversaries like Russia and Iran now on the ground and in the mix?