Republicans and a disturbing number of media personalities are impressed because Trump bombed something. The U.S. has sent a “strong message,” or so the narrative goes. Yes, the fact that Syrian planes were taking off from the bombed airbase within hours cast some doubt on the certainty of message strength. But at least the world knows that Trump will bomb things, so America is made great again, or something.
“Let Syria and ISIS fight. Why do we care?” Trump said in 2015. As recently as the end of last month, just days before Assad killed dozens of people with sarin gas, Trump’s ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley told reporters that “our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out … We can’t necessarily focus on Assad the way that the previous administration did.”
But then Trump watched the shows.
“I do change and I am flexible, and I’m proud of that flexibility,” Trump said shortly before ordering cruise missiles to bomb some runways. “Flexibility” is now being branded as Trump’s “emerging doctrine.” Flexibility is also a charitable way of saying his administration doesn’t know what to do next, just as it doesn’t know what to do generally.
Trump isn’t flexible. He’s a scatterbrain. His only consistent, unwavering priority is himself. Bombing something may or may not have any measurable impact on the carnage in Syria. But it has already produced a first for Trump’s administration: Consecutive days when something “presidential” got more coverage than venality and/or incompetence.
The strongest message that was sent by the U.S. air strike in Syria was the message delivered to Trump: He bombed something, and now “many people,” as he would say, are talking about him as if he’s fit to serve.
Military adventurism is a time-honored means of consolidating support and cowering critics, so this should get pretty ugly.