Apr 12th 2017

Trump the War President?

by Ian Buruma

 


Ian Buruma is the author, most recently, of The Churchill Complex: The Curse of Being Special, From Winston and FDR to Trump and Brexit. 



NEW YORK – Nothing seemed to be going right for Donald Trump during the first 11 weeks of his presidency. Federal courts blocked his attempts to ban citizens from six Muslim-majority countries from entering the US. He failed to repeal former President Barack Obama’s signature health-care legislation (“Obamacare”), because so-called moderates in the Republican Party thought his proposed replacement was too harsh, and extremists thought it wasn’t harsh enough.

Moreover, Trump’s national security adviser, General Michael Flynn, had to step down because of dodgy dealings with the Russians, and members of his inner circle at the White House are fighting like cats and dogs. The New York Times and the Washington Post have both called Trump a liar. His approval ratings were dipping to 35%, the lowest ever recorded for a new president.

Then, seemingly on the spur of the moment, Trump ordered an attack by 59 Tomahawk missiles on a Syrian air base. After years of horrendous bombings and torture by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, after adamantly refusing to allow Syrians to escape the carnage by coming to the US as refugees, and after making clear only last week that the US would do nothing to topple Assad, Trump saw pictures of children foaming at the mouth after another chemical gas attack, and changed his mind.

Suddenly Obamacare, chaos in the White House, wild tweets and political incoherence, as well as a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping, for which Trump had appeared unprepared, were utterly forgotten. The same New York Times that had been in high dudgeon about the president from the moment he came to power now devoted almost every column inch to the steadfastness of the commander-in-chief, who had acted to teach the world (meaning China, Russia, and North Korea) a fine lesson.

And not just the New York Times. The Wall Street Journal hailed Trump’s move, of course, but so did the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, who claimed that “the moral dimensions of leadership” had now found its way into the Trump White House. Brian Williams, anchorman on MSNBC, was so excited by images of the missile attack that he could find only one word for them: “Beautiful!”

You would have to have a heart of stone not to enjoy seeing Assad get a bloody nose. Bombing your own civilians, or indeed anyone, with poison gas is a ghastly war crime. But striking an airfield is not a strategy and will do little to bring Syria’s civil war to an end.

Those Tomahawk strikes have, however, distracted attention from Trump’s political problems. And that, more than a heart that suddenly began bleeding, must be at least part of the explanation for his action.

Trump may not know much about the world, and his ignorance of foreign policy may be boundless, but he has been a master of one particular art: self-promotion through the manipulation of traditional and social media. He knows how to grab the news. His aim, as a reality TV star, a marketer of his brand, and a politician, has been consistent: recognition as the world’s greatest, toughest, most powerful, and most beloved man.

One way of tapping into the fears and resentments of millions of Americans, who were disillusioned by endless wars, was to promise to put America first, by withdrawing it from foreign entanglements – in trade, multinational institutions, and especially military conflicts. As he put it very recently: “I’m not, and I don’t want to be, the president of the world.”

But now he has stumbled onto the best way to achieve his goal of being applauded as a tough guy: military action. His efforts to portray himself as a great president have faltered, but as commander-in-chief he appears to have scored a big victory where it really matters to him: the mass media.

People may have grown sick of the wars unleashed by George W. Bush, but the reaction to Trump’s Tomahawks even in the august New York Times has made one thing clear: when the commander-in-chief confronts an enemy abroad, people will support him, as though it were their patriotic duty. And if bombing an air base is a mark of moral leadership, questioning it is not just unpatriotic, but also immoral, as though one does not wish to do something about those poor children subjected to Assad’s poison gas.

Even if Trump’s Tomahawks won’t solve the conflicts in the Middle East, and even if they actually make matters worse, he has achieved an important victory at home. In the eyes of many critics, he now looks presidential. And he may have repaired, if only temporarily, a serious rift among the Republicans.

Indeed, some of Trump’s fiercest opponents have been neoconservatives, the same people who promoted Bush’s war in Iraq. They hated his promises to withdraw from foreign conflicts. Now they will probably rally around him.

Trump still has no strategy, not in the Middle East, and not in Asia, where North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-un, is doing his best to grab the news and provoke Trump by testing nuclear devices and long-range missiles. But Trump now knows what to do to be admired as a great leader. A US aircraft carrier strike group is already on its way to the Korean Peninsula. An attack on North Korea, unlike a runway in Syria, could actually lead to nuclear war. But Trump’s moral dimension has been restored. It will be beautiful.


Ian Buruma, Professor of Democracy, Human Rights, and Journalism at Bard College, is the author of Year Zero: A History of 1945.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2017.
www.project-syndicate.org



FOR FACTS AND ART'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER, PLEASE CLICK HERE.

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: " I remember recounting fellow leaders of the story of a Rwanda schoolboy caught up in the genocide of the 1990s and now immortalized in the Kigali Genocide Memorial museum, where, in a section devoted to children, one can find his photograph and a plaque that reads: ----- David, age 11 ...... Ambition: to be a doctor ...... Favorite sport: football ...... Favorite hobby: making people laugh ...... Death: by mutilation ...... Last words: the UN are coming to save us ----- In his idealism and innocence, David believed the international community would save him and his mother. We didn’t. "
Jun 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " While many conservative Republicans opposed Trump and saw that he posed a danger to their party and democracy itself, they were hesitant to buck the mass movement they had created, fearing that it would turn against them. Some of these same conservatives assumed that with Trump's defeat, the horror of January 6th, and the former president's banishment from social media, the time had come to restore sanity to their party. But the GOP leadership’s continued cowering in the face of what they now call "Trump's base" has caused them to circle the wagons and purge their ranks of those who call for sanity. "
May 26th 2021
Editor's Note: This article is about the Federal Reserve, inflation in the 1970's, and possible similarities to today.
May 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "Netanyahu claims to be acting in the name of the Jewish people. He certainly is not. Many Jews around the world, including me, despise Netanyahu’s racist politics. As an American, I am also deeply troubled by the US government’s knee-jerk support of Israel. Fortunately, I am not alone in this view. A growing number of Democratic Congressmen, Jews and non-Jews alike, have called on the United States to stop supporting Israel’s lawlessness. The truth is that the US government’s uncritical support for Israel has come to depend more on evangelical Christians, such as former US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, than on American Jews, who are deeply divided by Netanyahu’s actions. And the evangelicals’ real interest in Zionism is not Jews’ security, but Armageddon, the end of the world, which they believe will come only when all Jews are in Israel."
May 18th 2021
EXTRACT: "This period in US history could go down as the moment when America’s democratic system for electing a president – the most consequential duty of US citizens – was broken, perhaps for good."
May 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "While reading Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) monumental report “A Threshold Crossed,” I felt a range of emotions. It also left me with one big question. I was deeply impressed by the report’s rigorous scholarship. At the same time, it brought to the surface feelings of anger and profound sadness. It’s an extraordinarily complete study detailing not only the many ways Israel has violated a broad range of Palestinian human rights, but the ideology of racial superiority and entitlement that Israel has used to justify its repression." ..... "My advice to both Israel’s defenders and weak-kneed liberals is​, “Read the damn report.” "
May 16th 2021
EXTRACTS: .... "He transformed a transitioning market economy into a stable statist project that rests on an alliance of his inner circle," ..... "He transformed Russia from a respected member of the international community into a rogue state" .... ". He energized NATO by providing it with the adversary it lacked after the end of the cold war," ..... "He befriended hopelessly corrupt, dysfunctional, and unstable dictatorships..." ..... "He forged a quasi-alliance with China, thereby enhancing Russia’s dependence on the one country that might have reason to appropriate those Russian territories inhabited by Chinese."
May 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "On the face of it, the latest escalation of violence is following the template of all inter-ethnic wars. Muslims observing Ramadan shouted nationalist slogans and clashed with Israeli right-wing groups chanting “Death to the Arabs.” The Israelis haughtily marched with their national flag on Jerusalem Day, marking Israel’s capture in 1967 of East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, the site of the biblical Second Temple, and of Al-Aqsa, completed in the year 705. Battles in and around the Al-Aqsa compound erupted, with worshipers inside throwing stones at the Israeli police, who responded by firing rubber-tipped bullets and other projectiles, wounding hundreds."
May 13th 2021
"Regardless of how the current and future violent conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians in Jerusalem will end, there will be no Israeli-Palestinian peace unless East Jerusalem becomes the capital of a Palestinian state while the city remains united."
May 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " Would the United States be prepared to risk a catastrophic war with the People’s Republic of China to protect the Republic of China, better known as Taiwan? "
May 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human history, ancient and contemporary, is replete with instances of genocide – that is, the effort to eradicate a people, erase their history, denigrate their culture, and destroy their physical presence. Many of these atrocities have been recognized by the victims and other nations who support them. But, with the notable exception of the German acknowledgment of the Holocaust, rarely have the perpetrators of these crimes accepted responsibility and offer recompense "
May 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "The best way to defend liberal democracy is to practice it at home and abroad with the “courage and self-confidence” that Kennan touted at the dawn of the Cold War. This is also the best way to ensure the survival of our own conception of human freedom. And survive it will."
May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Sammy Roth at the LA Times/ Boiling Point Newsletter reports that California’s main power grid was powered for several hours last Saturday by 90% renewables. For just four seconds that day, the grid, which covers 4/5s of the state, reached 94.5% generation by green energy. California is the world’s fifth largest economy. The main grid does not cover Los Angeles County. On the other hand, these figures do not include the electricity generated by the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which is not counted as renewable but which is also very low-carbon."
Apr 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "It is no accident that there has been an economic divergence in Central and Eastern Europe. Those countries that have joined the European Union have improved their economic governance, and GDP has begun to converge with Western Europe. Between 2014 and 2019, Hungary, Poland, and Romania grew at an annual average rate of 3.9%, 4.1%, and 4.7%, respectively. Meanwhile, Belarus and Ukraine experienced minimal growth during this period, and Russia’s economy expanded at an average annual rate of just 0.7%. Though Russia had a higher per capita GDP (in terms of purchasing power parity) than Croatia, Poland, Romania, and Turkey as recently as 2009, all of these countries have since overtaken it. Russians today are shocked to learn that they are worse off than Romanians and Turks. Among EU member states, only Bulgaria is still poorer than Russia. With its close proximity to the EU single market, Russia could have had higher growth if it had pursued sound economic policies. Instead,..... "
Apr 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "As far as anyone can tell, the US military is not on the verge of an internal breakdown, let alone primed to stage a coup d’état. But few predicted anything like the US Capitol riot before protesters equipped with body armor, stun guns, and zip-ties breached the building. Before the US is blindsided again, its leaders must act resolutely to root out extremism in the military."
Apr 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The new report on 2020 by the International Renewable Energy Agency reveals that the world’s renewable energy generation capacity increased by an astonishing 10.3% in 2020 despite the global economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic." .... "In 2020, the global net increase in renewables was 261 gigawatts (GW). That is the nameplate capacity of some 300 nuclear power plants! There are actually only 440 nuclear power plants in the whole world, with a generation capacity of 390 gigwatts. So let’s just underline this point. The world put in 2/3s as much renewable energy in one year as is produced by all the existing nuclear plants!"
Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."
Apr 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only one percentage point of GDP, and is projected to pay for itself eventually. A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue."