Trump’s pride has been hurt at home, so he’s looking to bolster it with a win in Syria

There’s nothing like a nice little war to rally a country around you. Just ask George W Bush, who romped to a second term after a couple of big ones

James Moore
Thursday 06 April 2017 13:57 BST
American leaders are wont to step up to the world stage when their domestic policies flounder
American leaders are wont to step up to the world stage when their domestic policies flounder (Getty)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Is it just me or is there something faintly ridiculous about Donald Trump taking to the pulpit to deliver lectures about the behaviour of Bashar al-Assad?

The killing of dozens of civilians in northern Syria in an apparent chemical attack by Assad’s air force certainly justifies his describing it as “an affront to humanity”.

But Trump’s critics would have it that his softly softly approach with the Syrian leader provided the latter with the cover he needed to perpetuate the attack.

In the aftermath, America has gone from turning a blind eye to rattling its sabre. What happens next is anyone’s guess.

Donald Trump says 'you'll see' when asked about Syria policy

Is Trump going to work with his BFF Vladimir Putin, whose client Assad is? Trump has had very little to say about the Russians’ role in the region.

Or is he going to go in alone, all guns blazing. Biff, bang, pow! Here comes the cavalry, because killing “innocent babies, little babies… that crosses… many lines”.

It was left to Nikki Haley, America’s ambassador to the UN, to raise the issue of whether Putin has something to answer for over that.

“Time and again Russia uses the same false narrative to deflect attention from their ally in Damascus,” she snarled, as tempers frayed during a debate at the UN Security Council.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, meanwhile, urged his Russian friends to think carefully. Vice President Mike Pence said all options were on the table.

Which of those represent official American policy? Does it actually have one?

If it does, it would be reasonable to conduct a debate. You could ask whether the softly softly approach had contributed to the strike. Or you could argue that a less gung ho America might be of long term benefit, however tough it is to adopt that position in its ugly aftermath.

As it is, no one is really sure where they are, and if there’s one thing more dangerous than no policy at all, it is one that is wildly inconsistent.

Here’s what worries me about the whole sorry affair: Trump has just emerged from a humiliating domestic defeat. His healthcare strategy is in tatters, his promise to oversee the swift repeal of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act has been broken.

His follow up target, tearing up the Dodd-Frank reforms to banking regulation, drafted in the wake of the financial crisis, might prove to be an easier battle for him to win. After all, Republicans do love their de-regulation.

Wall Street isn’t convinced that he’ll get very far with it, but he could easily dress up a light trim as the “major haircut” he’s promised.

Trouble is, banking regulation is anything but a sexy subject. It isn’t gong to win him the approval he desperately craves.

So why not step up on to the world stage, as American leaders are wont to do when their domestic policies flounder.

A bit of Assad bashing? Just the ticket. A few USAF sorties, with the quiet approval of Putin? Bingo. Donald, just get your rabble to pipe down about us and you can fly your planes. We won’t complain too much. Bashar’s getting a bit too big for his boots anyway.

After the bombs have been dropped, the Donald emerges triumphant. That Obama couldn’t get the job of sorting those A-rabs out done but there’s a new sheriff in town!

There’s nothing like a nice little war to rally a country around you. Just ask George W Bush, who romped to a second term after a couple of big ones. He bombed Osama Bin Laden out of Afghanistan and it was only years later that the disaster of his Iraqi desert course became painfully clear.

Trump didn’t speak too kindly about that historic mistake during the course of his election campaign, but he might have taken note of the fact that criticising W all but became a capital offence at the time. Country band the Dixie Chicks were in receipt of death threats when they said they didn’t think much of their President during a London gig. That’s a tune Trump might enjoy.

And if the Russians won’t play ball with a Syrian adventure, well there’s always North Korea. China had best just get with the programme.

Trump’s ungainly waltz onto the international stage scares me witless. Perhaps we’d best just hope Congress proves willing to divert his attention back onto the domestic arena by throwing him a banana or two.

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