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.