Back in April I told everyone Trump’s airstrike on Syria was an enormous blunder. I took heat from my Twitterati. People dropped off my Periscope feed. I continue to get tweets from people poking at me to confirm their ‘4-d chess’ arguments about Trump’s actions.convinced. I don’t normally do “I told you so.”
But this time I am.
This morning Seymour Hersh confirmed the narrative that Trump acted without forethought in the matter. He had to be walked back by his advisors from doing more damage. The ultimately ineffectual strike was not designed by Trump and Putin through some phantom back-channel, it was designed by his military advisors to minimize the damage Trump the hothead intended to do.
This isn’t 4-D Chess. It’s was a mistake, made in the heat of the moment by a man eager to make a statement.
And that statement is that he has a lot to learn about the responsibilities of being President.
Trump’s temper and lack of subtlety is not something to under-estimate. It was used by the Jihadists against him.
The Russians have played the game in Syria “the right way,” according to Hersh’s account and Trump betrayed that at every level. No wonder Putin was so angry after the strike that we found the limit of his nearly legendary cool.
It didn’t track that Putin would lie to the world on behalf of Assad over the use of chemical weapons. As has been pointed out numerous times, the U.N. supervised the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles. Today, Russia announced it has destroyed 99% of its chemical weapons stockpiles from the Soviet era, in compliance with Chemical Weapons Convention. A program begun under Putin in 2003.
So, in the video above, Putin’s words about chemical weapons are backed up by his actions and the actions of the U.N. So, Trump, in the aftermath of the bombing, saying over and over that they knew Assad did this rang hollow.
What Trump gained in political capital in the short term he is now losing in the long term. If you don’t think that this won’t be used against him in the future you are insane. Trump acted the way he did and allowed his U.N. ambassador to lob knowingly false accusations about President Assad and Russia to perpetuate the myth that Syria used chemical weapons two days previously knowing full well that it didn’t happen.
He was manipulated into responding to a set up by his opponents within the government and the jihadists they back. And it will be a weapon brought against him in any impeachment proceeding, if it hasn’t already.
To be fair, Hersh’s account could be read as yet another layer of psy-op; portraying Trump’s advisors, both civilian and military, in the best possible light. They tried to warn Trump off the attack but he was intractable.
But, even if that is true, Trump still acted based on political expediency and not with the prudence and temperance necessary to navigate the murky waters of foreign policy. His worst critics will have gained a very valuable point on him, putting paid the idea that he has neither the knowledge or the temperament to be President.
Will it stick? Scott Adams would likely say no. Trump is a master persuader, after all, and his critics, like John McCain and Chuck Schumer, are the opposite.
But, it brings up the important point that I made in multiple articles. Ascribing god-like powers of strategic and tactical thought to Donald Trump is an error. Hersh’s account confirms other accounts that Trump acts and has good instincts to know when that act was a mistake.
But he refuses to admit mistakes and, instead, moves forward and changes course. That’s fine. It shows a man who is at once both flexible and emotionally-stunted. But, that’s as far as his strategic thinking likely goes.
And it is our responsibility to hold his feet to the fire in the moment when he screws up and assist him in making the needed changes. If Hersh is to be believed Trump was so upset that he entertained a much worse response to the bombing that would have provoked a wider conflict with Russia.
And the important take away for the future is not Syria, but Iran. If Trump’s opinion of Iran privately is anything like his public opinion then he will not be dissuaded from provoking a wider conflict using Saudi Arabia, and covertly Israel, as cover for his position.
Given the state of play in Syria over the past week, it seems to me that things Trump has set in motion that strategy and washed his hands of the details. Because that’s who he is.
And no amount of wishful thinking is going to change that. Understand the man, you understand the policy.
This is why he and Putin are headed for a collision course if Trump thinks he can craft a grand bargain with Russia that involves them throwing aside Iran for the U.S. A U.S. that has betrayed Putin and Russia countless times since the fall of the U.S.S.R.
That is a non-starter for Putin. Putin also knows that bullies bully out of weakness not strength. And that’s why Trump’s blunder in Syria was so damaging. By making a display of strength, Trump revealed his weakness.
And the costs will be far greater than they would have been otherwise.