If anyone ever thought that President Donald Trump would be changed by his high office, his responses to the poison gas attack on civilians in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun should put that thought to rest.
President Trump and plain old Donald Trump are one and the same.
For the so-called “leader of the free world” as for the billionaire builder, the 4-time bankrupt, the intramural basketball bully on the University of Pennsylvania — all the world’s a game, and you win by breaking the rules.
Sometimes you break specific rules to gain a particular advantage, but more often you break basic rules to put your opponents on the proverbial back foot. They can’t plan a strategy if they have no idea of yours.
There are a lot of people who say this is dangerous, immoral, just plain nuts. But, as Trump would be the first to tell them, “You’re not the President of the United States. I am, and I will do things my way.”
In the context of the crisis in Syria, this has been President Trump’s way.
His first reaction to reports that President Bashar al-Assad’s Air Force had once again used Sarin gas to kill his own citizens was a shrug: “I am not the world’s policeman.”
Then, after he had seen video of dead and dying children, or perhaps after he realized that much of America and the world had seen those pictures, he became a global cop with a billy-club, laying a 59 Cruise missile whacking on the Shayrat Air Base from which US intelligence says, Syria’s Sarin-bombing planes were launched.
Like that “old school” street cop, he calibrated his whacking, taking out a few Syrian planes and hangars but not disabling the base, and issuing a warning in advance to prevent Russian and Syrian military casualties.
The attack delivered 3 messages:
- chemical warfare really does cross America’s, and the world’s, “red line.”
- we could have hurt you worse…and
- we’re prepared to hit you again, if you step out of line…the meaning of which is left conspicuously undefined.
Since then, as the NY Times notably noted, many top members of the Trump Administration, some by name, some not for attribution, have added messages of their own, some contradictory. The President himself has remained silent, leaving journalists, American politicians and other world leaders confused and anxious.
Which is exactly where, I believe, President Trump wants to leave them. “I don’t telegraph my moves,” he loves to say, as if world affairs were a chess or boxing match.
Is this a brilliant, winning strategy or just a cover for seat-of-the-pants maneuvering without any plan? I guess we’ll find out, but we ought to say, the prosperity, peace and stability of the nation and the world could very well be in play.
Charles Glass is a broadcaster, journalist and writer, who began his journalistic career in 1973 at the ABC News Beirut bureau with Peter Jennings. He covered the October Arab-Israeli War on the Egyptian and Syrian fronts. He also covered civil war in Lebanon, where artillery fire wounded him in 1976. He was ABC News Chief Middle East correspondent from 1983 to 1993. Since 1993, he has been a freelance writer in Paris, Tuscany, Venice and London, regularly covering the Middle East, the Balkans, southeast Asia and the Mediterranean region. He has also published books, short stories, essays and articles in the United States and Europe. Just last year he published Syria Burning: A Short History of a Catastrophe.