What if Trump’s missile salvo wasn’t really about Syria?
More than a hundred years ago, President Theodore Roosevelt described his foreign policy as, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Which to him meant, "the exercise of intelligent forethought and of decisive action sufficiently far in advance of any likely crisis".
Fast forward to President Trump. Few will characterize Trump as “speaking softly,” whether verbally or on Twitter, but after sending 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Syria last week, there is little doubt about him carrying “a big stick.” Going further, did this move demonstrate “forethought?” Was it “decisive action” ahead of and hopefully preventing “any likely crisis?”
What if the Syrian bombing was not really about Syria, but meant for a different audience?
The missile salvo was surgical and precise, bombing a few buildings at a Syrian air force base. The Russians were warned ahead of time to get their soldiers off the base. Very likely they tipped off the Syrians. Casualties were minimal, if at all, as the missiles destroyed Syrian planes, hangars and a fuel depot.
Some argue that this is a prelude to war, another Middle Eastern foreign entanglement which candidate Trump criticized and promised not to repeat. Others argue that the attack wasn’t enough. The runways weren’t destroyed, Assad is still in power. Trump instead took the Goldilocks approach, threading the needle between the “too much” and “not enough” camps, finding a happy medium.
What if this middle ground wasn’t really meant for Syria or Assad, but perhaps for China, Russia, Iran and North Korea? And perhaps the U.S. Fake Stream Media?
Foreign policy, like financial markets, prefers predictability to chaos or impulsiveness. What better way to throw a wrench into relations with these “axis of evil” countries than for Trump to do a 180-degree pivot from his campaign promises to stay out of Syria?
Foreign powers could safely assume that Trump would focus on his primary campaign promise of making America great again, directing his attention to repealing Obamacare, cutting taxes and regulation, renegotiating trade deals, and building a border wall. He made clear his intention to avoid costly foreign entanglements, specifically the ill-conceived and executed wars of by his two presidential predecessors.
A limited missile strike is hardly a war. No “boots on the ground.” The cost of the missiles, at a million dollars apiece, is less than what the Obamas are getting for their upcoming book deal. But the big stick is getting attention. International attention.
The missile salvo came out of the blue, although astute news observers might have sensed something in the works a few days earlier. The “America First” president launched the strike in contradiction to his previous assurances. Strategically announced over dinner with the smiling Chinese premier, one of the people meant to notice Trump’s big stick.
The stick was also intended to be seen up close and personally by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Particularly a week in advance of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Moscow. Despite tough talk from the Kremlin, Putin did meet with Tillerson, receiving a firsthand explanation of the new rules of the game in Trump’s world.
The mullahs of Iran and North Korea's big-talking Kim Jung-un are certainly paying attention after years of predictability and slumber under Obama’s feckless and “America not first” foreign policy. Navy Seals are supposedly training for a Saddam/Osama repeat, though take that with a grain of salt as the Seals don’t typically brief the media prior to their missions.
Is the former ophthalmologist and Syrian President Assad worried? Maybe, but he is on the back burner compared to Russia, China, North Korea and Iran. The missiles certainly caught his attention, but I’m not convinced regime change in Syria is part of Trump’s plans. Particularly after acknowledging the failures of the Obama and Bush administrations in overthrowing dictators and getting far worse as a replacement.
The beauty of the missile strike was the unpredictability of it all. Fighters, whether boxers, wrestlers or cage-fighters prefer predictable opponents. Trump, acting in a manner contradictory to his promises, now becomes a wild card. A rogue in a world of rogues. No predictable huffing and puffing with meaningless red lines as Obama gave us. No UN speeches and coalition-building as done by the two Bush presidents. Instead, a punch out of left field, a blow his opponents didn’t think he had in his arsenal.
Trump as a loose cannon, a crazy guy. Or is he crazy like a fox? Remember how Reagan was characterized similarly by the left and his political opponents? Finger on the nuclear button. Sleeping through his presidency.
Now we have Trump on offense and the axis of evil countries on defense. A welcome change. Just as Trump attacked his political opponents, viciously and often without warning, but quite effectively keeping them off balance.
This changes the old rules from America the Appeaser to America First, consistent with Trump’s campaign promises. And there is one other message recipient aside from the axis of evil countries: The Fake Stream Media.
For a year, the media has been telling us that Trump and his campaign colluded with the Russians to hack the election and steal it from Hillary Clinton. Trump is a Kremlin puppet, a secret agent doing Russia’s bidding. Trump and Putin are BFFs.
So how could Trump bomb Russia’s client state of Syria? BFFs don’t do this to each other. But what about the media narrative of the past year? Turned upside down. One missile at a time. With a real Russian reset button, not the nonsensical Hillary Clinton reset-to-nowhere button.
The Trump-Russia collusion story has more holes than the Syrian airbase and is imploding as we learn more about the real Obama-Russia connection, as Rich Lowry recently described. Not surprisingly, following the missile strike, the media has gone quiet on Trump being in the pocket of Russia. Likely big media was another recipient of Trump’s big stick.
While the focus is on what’s next for Syria, Trump has delivered a clear message to several troublesome countries and a dishonest Democrat-media complex. There is a new sheriff in town. And a real reset button.
Brian C. Joondeph, MD, MPS, is a Denver-based physician and writer. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.