Donald Trump

Trump Admin Embraces U.S. Role as World Policeman, Causing Attitude Shifts on All Sides on War and Trump

"Guided by the beauty of our weapons."


Richard Ellis/ZUMA Press/Newscom

Despite criticism from some longtime supporters, President Trump has found new champions on the right and the left for his decision to launch airstrikes in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack he has blamed on the Assad government.

Before a meeting of G-7 leaders in Italy, where forging a unified front on Russia and the Assad regime in Syria will be one of the chief goals, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. would hold accountable "any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world."

The only thing "impressive" about this is how the volatile, unpredictable, intellectual light-weight, easily manipulated by the media has garnered this support for such a stunningly incoherent position.

Trump's embrace of the U.S.'s role as a world's policeman has led some erstwhile never-Trumpers to offer full-throated support for the president and to attempt to push his administration further in a direction they support.

"Punishing Assad for use of chemical weapons is good," Bill Kristol tweeted. "Regime change in Iran is the prize."

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), some of Trump's most vocal critics during the Republican primary, the general election campaign, and since the election, both applauded Trump's decision to bomb Syria. Members of the establishment media like CNN's Fareed Zakaria and MSNBC's Brian Williams applauded too, as Mike Riggs noted last week.

Ian Dunt, an editor of, expressed an opinion emblematic of many on the anti-Trump establishment left. "Feel like I should wash my mouth out with soap but this was an impressive decision by Trump," Dunt tweeted, following up with: "Concerns me that volatile military situation now exists w president who can't tie his shoelaces, but red line needed to be maintained here."

Hillary Clinton herself called on airstrikes against Assad last week and praised Trump's decision while calling on him to do more to "end Syria's civil war, and to eliminate ISIS's stronghold on both sides of the border." Trump has already ramped up the global war on terror he inherited from Obama.

Trump supporters attracted to him in part because of the perception that he would limit U.S. use of military force to enforce international law have been critical of him in a way supporters of his predecessor weren't. Former President Obama ran as a war skeptic and became a warmonger. The pro-Obama left said little about the far more intrusive Libya intervention.

Some populist supporters of Trump have been highly critical of the decision to order airstrikes against Syria. White nationalist and Trump supporter Richard Spencer organized an anti-war protest in front of the White House, and was attacked by "anti-fascist" (antifa) activists.

Mike Cernovich, a self-described American nationalist and an early Trump supporter suggested the chemical weapons attack was a setup to frame Assad and draw the U.S. into regime change in Syria. Yet it's possible to believe both that Assad is a murderous dictator and that it is not the U.S.'s role or responsibility to remove him from office.

Other Democrats have rediscovered the importance of Congressional approval of presidential war actions. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) never really pressed the Obama administration to get authorization for military force (AUMF) and answered a question about a potential AUMF in 2015 by urging regional powers to do more in the campaign against ISIS. This week she stressed the importance of Congressional approval.

"Expanded military intervention in Syria requires action by Congress," she said, according to Military Times. "If President Trump expects such an authorization, he owes the American people an explanation of his strategy to bring an end to the violence in Syria. We should not escalate this conflict without clear goals and a plan to achieve them."

Warren missed the point spectacularly—the U.S. arguably had strategies when it invaded Iraq in 2003 and when it intervened in Libya in 2011, but the presence of a strategy on paper does not reduce the risk of unintended consequences, and wouldn't do so here.

In 2011 when President Obama drew the U.S. into the Libyan civil war, he did so without Congressional authorization, and Congress failed to do anything about it, setting a precedent the Trump administration exploited to avoid seeking authorization for the Syria air strikes. Congress' ongoing failure to respond to Trump's decision to strike Syria makes that precedent even stronger.

Congress authorized the use of military force against Iraq in 2002, not skeptical of the Bush administration's claims. Despite many of the assumptions under which the U.S. invaded Iraq turning out to be less than true, skepticism about Trump's Syria strikes seem to be being met with as much resistance as Iraq critics were.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) expressed skepticism about whether the Assad government was responsible for the air strikes. There has not been much evidence one way or the other on responsibility. In the aftermath of the chemical attacks, the idea that the bombed warehouse may have been the source of the nerve gas that killed and injured Syrian civilians was dismissed as preposterous because that's not how sarin works.

Yet in the aftermath of the U.S. airstrikes on Syria, Trump's national security advisor, H.R. McMaster, said the U.S. was careful not to target Syria's sarin stockpile so that they would not be "ignited and cause a hazard to civilians or anyone else."

There are no rational explanations for why Gabbard, a veteran of the Iraq War, shouldn't be suspicious, other than emotion-laden demands from other Democrats that she face a primary challenger. Howard Dean, who launched his 2004 presidential campaign as a committed opponent of the Iraq War, and Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress, condemned Gabbard's skepticism.

Tanden also attacked Gabbard for daring to meet with Assad. When Nancy Pelosi met with Assad in 2007, when he was already known as a "murderous dictator," she was never challenged by the left. Pelosi has called for an AUMF vote on Syria, as have members of Congress who have long called on Congress to reassert its constitutional role in U.S. war-making.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) pointed out on Twitter it was not too late for Congress to consider a bill he submitted in 2013 to "restrict funds related to escalating U S military involvement in Syria." Other members of Congress, like Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), the lone vote against the 2001 post-9/11 AUMF now used to justify military action across the Muslim world, have also called on Congress to vote on a Syria AUMF.

Speaker Paul Ryan does not appear to agree, signaling that the Trump administration's informal consultations with Congress sufficed. He called the strikes "appropriate and just" and said he looked forward to "the administration further engaging Congress in this effort."

The airstrikes against Syria were a response to reports that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons against its own people, in contravention to the Chemical Weapons treaty Syria signed in 2013. The Syrian government stood accused not just of committing "crimes against the innocents" but of violating a specific international law.

Tillerson is staking the U.S. in a far broader position, that of being the world's policeman when it comes to government's mistreating its own people. It is a repudiation of one of the few consistent messages Donald Trump had on the campaign trail—that the U.S. could not afford to continue acting as the world's policeman. But it still can't.