Trump's eerily moving motivation for the Syrian air strike

As bombastic, politically savvy, world-wise, and strategically oriented a leader as Donald Trump is, it was stunning to learn that his airstrikes to avenge Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad's barbaric sarin gas attack on his own people was primarily motivated by...empathy for murdered children.  His outrage, his change of heart, and his very animating motive was in his reaction to the horrible photos of the child victims that shocked the conscience.  As he stated:

Yesterday's chemical attack, a chemical attack so horrific in Syria against innocent people including women, small children, and even beautiful little babies, their deaths was an affront to humanity. These heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated. My attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.

It was so alien to what we know of geopolitics, yet so close to what we know from our own Judeo-Christian tradition, that it was impossible not to go along with it.

It was, above all, the response of a political outsider, someone who looked at an image of an atrocity as it was and did not think about how the U.S. could gain or lose from it, as a neocon might, or dismiss it as something that goes on all the time, as a world-weary foreign policy insider might, or put it aside it as a matter of not being able to solve all the world's problems, as a sick and tired heartlander might.  It was the unforced reaction of a man confronting and acknowledging the act's ghastliness as any normal human being would, and then striking hard to punish it and to stop it.

It stands in stark contrast to the reaction of his predecessor, President Obama, who knew all about the chemical gas stockpiles but, rather than get outraged, sat on the information to hide it from the U.S. public, solely in the interest of reaping political hay.

Trump's response had amazing power, because it wasn't about showing force; it was about showing moral leadership.  That's been in short supply ever since President Bush allowed the war on terror to be turned into a consultant contract festival of NGOs and contractors with an entrenched interest in war without end, and President Obama drove it farther to become a neglected, under-resourced, lawyer-led, war-without-victory morass.  Trump's moral clarity was like fire, and his willingness to act was swift.  The foreign policy swamp will dismiss it as spin, but given Trump's known proclivity to react to television images, there is reason to think it was real.

For those who have painted Trump for months as an insensitive monster – whether of the #NeverTrump variety on the right or the #Resist type on the left, the failure of that claim got obvious. 

My original thought when the strikes were announced was that it was "something McMaster cooked up" to show how neocon he is in projecting American power and how Bush-ism is back in the saddle.  But the Trump statements seemed to cut through the cynicism.  They were about humanism.  I looked at the pictures and allowed myself to feel sorrow at the evil that was wrought.

Two things were accomplished by Trump's response to this obvious horror.  One is that suddenly, it's not okay for dictators to get away with any old thing, as they had in recent previous administrations.  Some lines really aren't to be crossed, and there's no need to warn them before striking them down.

Two, the moral aspect of Trump's leadership poses a direct challenge to Russia's very claim to influence in the region.  Russian president Vladimir Putin has used the idea of Russia as the defender of civilization from the feckless West and the beastly barbarians to solidify his country's claim to the region.  He has positioned himself as the defender of Orthodoxy, the man who stood up for the Middle East's embattled Christians when even the pope did nothing about them being decimated.  His heart may be in that, but his actions do not match the head-on, lightning-fast willingness to take evil head-on, like St. Michael the Archangel, of Trump.

The appreciation shown by the Syrians for Trump's willingness to stand up for them against this horror will boomerang across the globe and give many embattled peoples under threats of atrocities a new hope.  No human rights courts farces of decades, no stern warnings from the United Nations, no petitions and Twitter hashtag feeds – just a swift and certain sky full of tomahawks, following each atrocity-perpetrator around the each corner with a punishing boom. 

That is leadership.  Trump has it.  And incredibly enough, it springs from the heart.

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