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The right way to draw a line

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Monday, April 10, 2017 09:29 am

Well now, Bashar-al Assad unleashed sarin gas against his own people, including children, and President Trump rather quickly ordered an airstrike against the Syrian base from which the chemical weapons attack was launched. And the world as we know it has not ended. And World War III has not commenced.

So some of the grownups who have been in hiding have reappeared. Republicans can support Trump's move but question what comes next. Democrats can still say he is too close to Vladimir Putin but give him credit for embarking on a course Putin does not like. It turns out we can have an actual adult conversation about President Trump and his policies, in the realization that he has very big decisions to make and it is in our interests that he get them right. So it is important that we take him seriously as the commander in chief, not treat him like a cartoon character from another planet.

So we can talk about:


With this one decisive act, Trump sent the signal, to foes and allies alike, that the United States is back as a force in the world. No more setting red line after red line and then ignoring them, no more "leading from behind," no more indecisiveness. There are some things this country will not tolerate, and if you cross the line you will feel our wrath. And he had the gumption to do it while meeting with the president of China, with whom he must have tough talks about everything from trade to North Korea to the South China Sea.

Yet it was a measured response, proportional, precise, deliberate. It did not seek to change to dynamics of the civil war in Syria. It did not seek some broad goal in terms of the Mideast, even a narrow one to oust Assad (although surely there will be talk of that). It merely said, you did this, and it was unacceptable, and therefore we do this. It projected strength but not overbearing arrogance, It didn't amount to cowboy diplomacy, if you like that metaphor.


It was an impulsive act. Even up until a few days before the strike, the president and his people were emphasizing the points Trump had made over and over again on the campaign trail: We can't afford to keep getting entangled in Mideast conflicts. What happens to Assad is up to the Syrian people. Our sole interest is eradicating ISIS.

But then he saw the evidence of the chemical attacks and was moved to change his mind, especially, as he tells it, by the sight of little babies having struggling to breathe then dying. As ardent Trump supporter (so far) Ann Coulter bitterly tweeted:

Trump campaigned on not getting involved in Mideast. Said it always helps our enemies & creates more refugees. Then he saw a picture on TV.

We can't fault Trump for being moved by evidence of atrocity. And even those of us who strongly believe America's national interest should be the prime motivator in foreign polcy have to acknowledge there are humanitarian concerns the whole world should be concerned with. But you just can't start dropping bombs on a whim. All evailable evidence tells us Trump is one to act on impulse — or call it the businessman's gut instinct — and that can be problematic enough on domestic policy. It can be disasterous on the world stage. Who the hell are the good guys in Syria, for example? How can we defeat ISIS without strengthening Assad? How can we weaken or depose Assad without giving ISIS another opening?


Yes, Syria is a problem, and Russia and China pose long-term threats. But the scariest threat to the planet right now is North Korea. It already has nuclear weapons. It already has missiles to put them on. It is testing long-range missiles. And it is run by a raving lunatic. It is easy enough to imagine him waking up one moring and going, "What the hell," and letting loose a nuclear strike. How do we assess the imminent danger? Dare we lauch a first strike? 

No administration in modern history has dealt successfully with North Korea because North Korea always does exactly what it wants to no matter what it says at any given point, and no American pesident has felt like doing something to set the madman off (not the current madman or his madman father). But Trump seems like a "What the hell" kind of guy himself, and it's not hard to see him waking up some morning and deciding we don't have to put up with that pissant little country any longer. Hello, World War III.

The bombing of this airfield is just a onetime act that too many people (including me) are undoubtedly reading too much into and inferring too much from. But it seeems fair to hope that it is a signal that a coherent foreign policy is being developed. Lord knows Trump needs one that fleshes out "American first" as more than a catchy slogan.

If there is such a foreign policy, (or if one is in the works), btw, I'd like to hear about it from Nikki Haley. She is turning out be the best spokesperson for America and American values we have had in a long time. She is not afraid to speak out to the thugs and tinpot dictators at the United Nations, and every time she speaks she kicks butt and takes names. She is emerging as the shining light of this administration.


I said some of the grownups have emerged. But the children are still there, still as shrill and unhinged as ever. If any of them are ever in the room, it will be pointless to try to have a serious conversation about anything. Some of the fevered Twitter exchanges I've seen in the last few days have been absolutely jawdropping. A common theme of the most ardent conspiracy theorists is that either, A) Trump did this deliberately to help pump up his sagging poll numbers or, B) He and Putin actually collaborated on the strike as a way to divert attention from the whole "Russia stole the election for Trump" saga.

Maybe the favorite crazy meme, the non sequitur of all non sequiturs,  judging by how often it has been shared, is something to the effect that "Trump started a war to protect the children he would not let into this country." Well, he didn't start a war, he bombed one airfield. And bombing an airfield and wanting to more deeply vet people coming into this country have nothing to do with one another. But it's as catchy as "No blood for oil" or "Bush lied, people died,"so it's a shiny toy they're just naturally going to play with. Between sulkings.


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