Syria: Is there a new ‘Trump Doctrine’?
“What a difference a few days have made,” said Scott Lehigh in The Boston Globe. Until last week, Donald Trump was a staunch isolationist with a two-word foreign policy: “America First.” In 2013, when President Obama was mulling a military response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s first use of chemical weapons, Trump actually tweeted: “We should stay the hell out of Syria!” Then came last week. To applause from neocons and liberal humanitarians but to the dismay of his most ardent, nationalist fans, Trump launched cruise missiles against Syria to punish Assad for a second, smaller nerve-gas attack. At the same time, he sent a U.S. Navy strike force steaming toward North Korea. Like many Trump supporters, “I am in shock,” said Christopher Roach in TheFederalist.com. We voted for him partly because he vowed to keep our country out of no-win wars like Iraq and Libya, but now we’re seeing him “transform into a kneejerk interventionist” before our eyes. Chief strategist Steve Bannon, the architect of Trump’s nationalist agenda, is reportedly losing influence in the White House, as Trump relies on advice from Manhattan globalists Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. If Trump’s foreign policy keeps heading in this conventional direction, “we’ve been subjected to the biggest bait and switch of all time.”
Trump deceived no one, said Howard Warner in American Thinker.com. Restoring our military preeminence was always part of “what he meant by making America great again.” The Syrian missile strike made the “Trump Doctrine” clear to a host of potential adversaries, including Iran, North Korea, and China: After the passive dithering of the Obama years, there is “a new sheriff in town”—one who’s not afraid to use force when negotiations fail. The strike against Syria was “the right thing” to do, said former Obama administration official Anne-Marie Slaughter in the Financial Times, and it’s fully consistent with Trump’s America First foreign policy. Weapons of mass destruction threaten all humanity, Americans included. Trump wants the world to know that when WMD enter the equation, “the U.S. is prepared to act.”
That “sounds suspiciously like the Bush Doctrine,” said Aaron Blake in WashingtonPost.com. If we’re going to start attacking countries over WMD again, as George W. Bush did with Iraq, should we be bracing for war with North Korea? Or Iran? Trump differs from Bush in at least one important way, said Ross Douthat in NYTimes.com. The current president’s main foreign policy advisers—James Mattis and H.R. McMaster—are generals, not civilians. In one sense this is reassuring: Soldiers are “less prone to grand ideological ambitions” than “experts’’ who’ve spent their lives behind desks. But military men also have “a strong bias toward, well, military solutions.” The “great peril” of this presidency is not Trump’s amorphous foreign-policy views, but “an accidental escalation that his generals encourage, and that the ultimate decider has no idea how to stop.”
The danger is even graver than that, said Jeet Heer in NewRepublic.com. Trump doesn’t have a clear foreign-policy vision, but he does have a bottomless craving for adulation. He may have upset his fans on the isolationist far right last week, but the praise he’s received from mainstream Republicans, Democrats, and the media makes it likely “Trump will take the wrong lesson from his Syrian adventure.” He may now go actively looking for opportunities to display his manly belligerence. “Trump could start a conflict anywhere; truly anything is possible from the man who considers unpredictability the ultimate virtue.” ■