We Americans like the spectacle of war, but, since the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam Conflict, only a small minority of us has had an appetite for actual fighting.
President Donald Trump’s attack on Syria shows that he understands this. It was a kind of minimalist attack. The Syrian government was given a general notice that an attack was coming, and the Russian government a specific attack, so that casualties and damage were minimal.
Except for the unfortunate Syrian troops who were killed, this was war theater, not war.
Yet he got credit for acting decisively. Deeply unpopular before, he has been applauded by the press, Congress and even Hillary Clinton, while even Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren equivocated. All the speculative news about Trump conspiring with Putin has vanished from the front pages.
I fear Trump has learned a bad lesson. When unpopular, rally Americans by attacking a designated foreign enemy. But since these attacks won’t change anything, he’ll have do something each time that is more impressive than what he did the time before, which means a higher risk of sliding from token war into general war.
I don’t think that Trump scared Bashar al Assad, Hassan Rouhani, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping or Kim Jong-on. I think they understand what is going on very well. I don’t think they can be bluffed or intimidated. As my father said, never start a fight you are not prepared to finish.
Trump is not the first President to attempt war theater as a substitute for actual fighting. It goes back to Ronald Reagan, who “kicked the Vietnam syndrome” by invading Grenada. It continued with George H.W. Bush with the invasion of Panama and first Gulf War, and Bill Clinton with interventions in the former Yugoslavia and the continuing low-level war against Iraq.
George W. Bush made the mistake of actually sending troops in large numbers to Afghanistan and Iraq and getting bogged down in a Vietnam-like quagmire war. Barack Obama did not make that mistake. He wages war by means of bombing raids, flying killer drones, Special Operations assassination teams and shipments of arms to foreign fighters.
Donald Trump says Obama was a weakling. But can he give the appearance of strength without getting into a general war? There is one thing that would be worse than a new Vietnam, Afghanistan or Iraq and that would be a nuclear war with Russia.
During the Cold War and after, no American president risked a direct military confrontation with Russia. I don’t think either Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin would intentionally start a nuclear war, but we’re drifting into a situation where things could get out of hand. The time to stop this drift is before it goes too far to stop.
By the way, did you notice anything odd in the chart about the questions in the public opinion survey?
The survey asked Americans whether they would endorse military action against “violent Islamic extremist groups” in Syria? Only the last question was about regime change in Syria.
I wonder how many Americans understand that “the anti-government groups in Syria” in the last question are the same as the “violent Islamic extremist groups” in the first, second and fourth questions, and that a no-fly zone over Syria is the greatest desire the violent Islamic extremist groups.
This would not be clear to anyone who depends for their information on network television, wire services or the large-circulation U.S. newspapers.
It’s not feasible to intervene against both sides in a civil war. The choices are to side with Assad, side with ISIS or stay out.
Donald trump feels he had no choice but to launch air strikes on Syria – but the balance of power on the ground has not changed by Patrick Cockburn in The Independent.
The Impending Clash Between the United States and Russia by Mike Whitney for Counterpunch.
Where Did That Come From? by Doug Muder for The Weekly Sift. [Added 4/10/2017]. An argument for war theater as the lesser evil.
Trump’s not the new Hitler … he’s the new Kaiser Bill by Andrew Bacevich for The Spectator.
Note; I made some minor changes to the text, including adding a sentence about speculation about Putin-Trump conspiracy, after the first three comments were posted.