I’ve been mulling over the recent Tomahawk missile attacks on alleged chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria by the US government. The attack has been greeted with horror and some degree of tin foil hattery by those who could reasonably be called the ‘Trump Ultras’. The incident provoked a number of individuals, including some that I would normally respect on other issues such as the migrant crisis, to really get their knickers in a twist. Cries of ‘betrayal of your voting base’ and ‘but you promised no involvement in Syria’ came from those who had had an almost religious belief in President Trump. These ‘Ultras’ were Donald Trump worshippers right up until the moment that the President was forced to engage in the messy world of geo-politics and exercise power.
However my view is that this idea that this intervention is a betrayal of principles is incorrect.
Firstly I believe that the President’s administration didn’t have much of a choice but to have US forces intervene in this way. To not intervene would have made the US look weak in the eyes of enemies and this perceived weakness would have been exploited by the likes of Iran, Russia, the Chinese and others, including non-state actors, such as ISIS or Al Qaeda.
Secondly and this is related to the first part, President Trump needed to prove that he wasn’t Barack Obama, that he wasn’t a vacillator or someone who talked big but did sod all. Mr Trump needed to show the world that he is different from Obama and was ready to use force if needed.
Thirdly, there may well be a lot of nations, some who have been traditional allies of the USA, who have become a little concerned about the smell of isolationism that was hanging like a miasma around the Trump presidential campaign and his post inauguration Cabinet. Nations who are concerned about the negative effects of isolationism needed to be shown that America still faced the world and was not retreating into navel gazing.
Fourthly, Syria is not the President’s only concern when it comes to international affairs. There’s the Iran problem, there’s the promotion of extreme Islam by countries like Saudi, the possible impending collapse of the European Union. There’s also the long running problem of North Korea. Not only is the North Korean government of Kim Jong Un a direct threat to the security of South East Asia by itself, but also because of the possibility that Chinese intervention in North Korea may spark a wider conflict in the region that could spill out across the world.
Fifthly, President Trump is seen, whether fairly or unfairly, as a man who can be unpredictable and this perceived unpredicabilty may be seen as an asset by the US government in order to discombobulate those in other nations who have got all too used to the sort of predictable behaviour of previous US presidents.
Finally it should never be forgotten that the President of the United States has access to a considerably greater amount of information about what is happening in various regions and countries. We the public do not know what information the President has seen that prompted him to take this form of military action and it may have been very persuasive information, including data regarding the troop movements and internal political situations of foreign nations.
I concur that there are some worrying stories coming out of Washington such as that emotional concerns in the White House and among Trump’s inner circle played a large part in the decision to bomb Syrian government targets. However it needs to be remembered that no matter how bad an idea it is to base political actions entirely on emotion, and we’ve only got to look at the migrant crisis for evidence of that foolishness, politics without emotion is worse. It was cold heartedness and a purely emotionless technocratic hyper-logical view of the world that gave the world the mass murders of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. When you cease to keep even a little emotion in your decisions then you are in danger of seeing ordinary citizens as mere pawns to be pushed around a chessboard which is how the above mentioned tyrants treated those under their own rule.
I don’t believe that the attack on Syrian government assets was anything half as bad as some of the Trump Ultras may think it is. This is normal messy international power politics and it may well be that there was a need for the US to be seen to be rattling a few sabres in order to head off greater problems down the line.
Unlike the Trump Ultras I’m not going to condemn these actions by the US government and one intervention that may have been made for good or bad reasons doesn’t blacken the whole of President Trump’s administration. It’s early days for President Trump’s administration and it’s an administration that needs to fight political battles at home whilst at the same time showing the world that the US can be resolute and politically united when necessary. Maybe those who are expressing shock and horror that President Trump is behaving like an interventionist may like to consider what they would have done in Mr Trump’s position? Would they have decided on any other course of action had they been privy to the data put before Mr Trump?
I believe that the Trump Ultras should of course hold the President’s feet to the fire if he did something monstrously damaging to the security or prosperity of the United States, but maybe this is not the issue on which to do that. All of those who think that President Trump has made a serious and fatal error or has engaged in a betrayal over this intervention should consider just how much worse things could be with Hillary Clinton in the White House. Imagine, to paraphrase George Orwell, Mrs Clinton’s boot stamping on the face of freedom forever and you can get some idea just why so many Americans and indeed non-Americans breathed a sigh of relief when they saw the election results on November 9th 2016. Therefore despite all of Mr Trump’s faults or the questions people may ask about his actions, including this intervention, we need to be thankful that he’s in the White House and not someone far far worse.