We may be only two months into the Trump Administration, but for a plethora of reasons, it is already safe to say that this new development concerning the firing of Tomahawk missiles into Syria is the moment of truth for President Trump. Why? Because it is the first major foreign policy move by the new President, after months of rhetoric on the campaign trail and in the transition phase. And when all issues and fields are considered, no area is more complex, delicate, and dangerous than foreign policy, especially in the madness of today’s world.
Let’s just summarize how everything else has been going so smoothly in comparison:
The economy: In a word, it’s booming. After trillions of dollars in record gains by the stock market, and continued deregulation of the economy (particularly energy production), the latest bit of news is indeed an indication of a stunning recovery still to come under President Trump. The first quarter of 2017 saw the creation of over 777,000 jobs in the private sector. This, the very first quarter of Trump’s Presidency, saw stronger job growth than any three-month period in Obama’s entire eight years in office. And this comes before any of the tax cuts and other major pieces of economic legislation President Trump has promised, which can only mean things are going to get even better.
Immigration: Plans for the border wall are moving along just fine. There have been crackdowns on illegal immigration from sea to shining sea, with Attorney General Sessions directly taking on any and all so-called “sanctuary cities” in the country. Illegal immigration from across the southern border has now dropped by about 67% since Trump first took office. Again: This is only after two months.
The Supreme Court: Justice Gorsuch is upon us. That’s really all that needs to be said on this particular issue. For good measure, the Senate Republicans even flexed their political muscle in the process by invoking the nuclear option, stripping one major power that the Senate Democrats had in their obstructionist efforts. The vote even came with bipartisan support from a handful of brave Democrats.
With all that said, however, foreign policy has still been a very rough ocean, even for a largely successful President like Donald Trump. China and Russia still have a powerful presence on the international stage. Smaller rogue states like Iran and North Korea feel emboldened, while the situation in the Middle East has not even come close to stabilizing.
Now, with this strike against Syria, it would appear that all hell has broken loose. Just take one look on social media feeds - particularly those of so-called “Trump supporters” like Paul Joseph Watson - and you’ll see a widespread sentiment of “betrayal” or “disappointment.” Overwhelmingly, there’s a fear that President Trump has “caved” to the hawkish, neo-conservative agenda of American intervention where we don’t belong; that this marks a return to the “same old, same old;” that this is an indication of the superior power of the “deep state,” no matter who is President, etc., etc. Some even go so far as to declare that we are now “at war” with Syria, and that this is doomed to be to Trump what Iraq was to Bush Jr.
In a word: all of this is garbage. Hysteria stoked by a media that is still as determined as ever to ruin Trump by taking away his base of support.
Here’s a list of possible reasons for why this could potentially turn out to be a brilliant move for President Trump.
First and foremost, this marks a return to an era where America reinforces its “red lines.” After Obama infamously did not enforce his “red line” in response to the first uses of chemical weapons by Assad, the world saw the unmistakable message that America was leading from behind. By taking swift action, President Trump has reversed that course and has proven that America is no longer afraid to enforce its red lines. This was not even necessarily a declaration against Assad; it was a condemnation, first and foremost, of the use of chemical weapons. The target in question was the airfield from which the weapons were allegedly launched. So regardless of who used the weapons, the source of the weapons is now demolished. Trump reinforced a basic international law against an atrocious war crime, and he did it swiftly and effectively; his tough talk is now backed up by tough action. Had he caved to the radical factions of his base who demand no American involvement at all, it would’ve conveyed American weakness on the international stage, which is literally the last thing we need right now.
Beyond the immediate effects in Syria, President Trump has also sent a message to the rest of the world - both our allies and our enemies. He has been rallying together a massive international coalition against this use of chemical weapons, including a number of European and Middle Eastern countries, in an incredible show of diplomacy previously thought almost impossible due to his brash nature. At the same time, he has sent a strong message to rogue states like the ones I mentioned: Iran, North Korea...and even Russia and China. After all, is it really a coincidence that this strike happened the same day that Trump met with Chinese president Xi Jinping to discuss, among other things, North Korea?
Most of all, this tackles the behemoth of Russia in two ways. First, of course, it is a display of strength against the man
Thus, the big question remains: Where do we go from here? The initial strike itself, overall, was a brilliant move. But the actions that President Trump takes in Syria from this point on will define the true legacy of the Trump Doctrine. In a simple, historical comparison, this can go one of two ways: It can go the way of Johnson in Vietnam, or the way of Nixon in Cambodia. Obviously, Johnson got us involved in the biggest failure in American diplomatic and military history in Vietnam, intending to show strength but only embroiling us in a quagmire. Conversely, Nixon dropped bombs on Cambodia during the escalation of the Vietnam War, but we never declared war on Cambodia, nor invaded, nor got dragged into a quagmire there. Yet by doing so, Nixon was able to intimidate the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong. By acting out his “Madman theory,” he was able to scare the living daylights out of them, and convince them to negotiate a (tragically short-lived) peace deal before his removal from office.
Only time will tell if Trump follows Johnson or Nixon. I know what my hope is...and my guess/prediction is probably the same.
You can follow the author on Twitter: @EricLendrum26.
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