Donald Trump

The Banality of U.S. Foreign-Policy Hawks And Their Media Enablers

Everyone loves Trump's Syria strike but only because it really won't change anything? SAD!



As Donald Trump's bombing of a Syrian air base last week testifies, nothing stifles political dissent in America more quickly and completely than military action. Suddenly, even the Democratic congressional leadership of Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi is linking arms with a president they regularly assail as incompetent and unqualified. The mainstream media fell into line, too, with 83 percent of major newspapers supporting the action by one tally. Out of the 46 largest newspapers that editorialized on Syria, only one—The Houston Chronicle—opposed the air strike.

Where does such a mind-set come from? This is especially important since it's not clear that political and cultural elites are speaking for the majority of Americans when pushing a pro-intervention line. Indeed, one of Donald Trump's most-potent populist attacks during his presidential campaign sprung directly from suspicion of leaders being dangerously out of touch with what typical Americans felt. Iraq and Libya, he averred during the 2016 race, were flawed because they put the interests of "globalists" ahead of actual American interests. At least since the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the United States can't be fairly characterized as a non-interventionist country, but it's also fair to say that our country's foreign policy after World War II was not necessarily an expression of the vox populi. Foreign policy isn't something that should be put to a majority vote, of course, but when your whole political persona is speaking for the "forgotten" men and women of America, it's worth thinking about (this is also true, incidentally, when it comes to free trade and liberal immigration laws, which are also supported by majorities of voters).

At Hot Air, Allahpundit notes that even as one poll shows "52 percent of Republicans" strongly or somewhat support using ground troops to remove Bashar al-Assad from Syria, a plurality of Americans (44 percent to 41 percent) are plainly against such action. Other polls, such as CBS, show virtually no support for anything more than random, "humanitarian" airstrikes (which of course are anything but). The CBS polls says just 17 percent of us support the use of troops to unseat Assad. YouGov, meanwhile, finds massive and swift growth in the percentage of Republicans who believe that the United States "has a responsibility to intervene in trouble spots." Four years ago, just 18 percent of Republicans agreed with such a sentiment. As of last week, 51 percent does.

Which suggests that foreign policy is much more about domestic politics. While there is a strong pro-interventionist, neoconservative caucus within the Republican Party (think John McCain, who rarely meets a bombing or invasion program he doesn't fall in love with), partisan politics often does a better job of explaining where voters and leaders stand on anything. That is, until the bombs start exploding and the bullets start buzzing. Then you get 83 percent of newspapers rallying around the flag pole and otherwise mortal enemies linking arms and singing "Kumbaya," albeit in the name of war.

And you get commentaries like this by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry in The Week:

Whether you like it or not, America is the world's lone superpower, and its military dominance over the rest of the world has, despite all its flaws, produced an era of unprecedented peace and prosperity. The phrase "world policeman" is usually taken as a pejorative, but it is actually extremely apt: A policeman should not be a nanny or a busybody, but, by god, if he sees a thug punching a grandmother, he should intervene. It is actually the antithesis of that other pejorative word, "empire." In political theory terms, a policeman enforces a minimal rule set — what you must not do — whereas an empire enforces a maximal rule set — what you must do. A world empire would be a disaster, but a world policeman is a wonderful thing. And since there are no other credible candidates, America — meaning President Trump — must be it.

Gobry underscores that Trump's stated purpose in "lobbing a few Tomahawk missiles" was humanitarian (and thus a nearly complete renunciation of the platform on which Trump won). He says he was against Iraq and Libya and is not a fan of regime change, but hey, we're not trying to unseat Assad even as he admits that's the official U.S. policy nowadays. As if only U.S. intentions matter in foreign policy or things never get away from our noblest aspirations (this is all apart from the fundamental question of whether it's up to America to in fact discipline every godawful tyrant on the planet).

Gobry's herky-jerky perspective on intervention—I'm against it except when I'm for it, which is when it really has no impact on anything—is notable not for its rarity but for its ubiquity. Every politician and opinion writer, it seems, is convinced that the United States must do something, especially in the Middle East.

Many of America's adventures in the Arab world, especially Iraq and Libya, have been disasters with manifold unintended consequences that have made the world much worse and wreaked immense suffering… The problem is when the case against specific interventions is broadened into a heuristic that says that America should simply never intervene in the Middle East.

Screw the unintended consequences and the past 15 years of U.S.-enhanced "immense suffering." We've got to…what, keep repeating ourselves ad nauseum when it comes to bombing and dictating terms to countries over which we have little control and even less insight?

This is not a smart way of thinking and randomly "lobbing" missiles into the rat's nest of Syria—where we somehow are fighting on at least two opposite sides of a civil war—is unlikely to make anything better, either for Syrians, Americans, or other people in the world. But being an interventionist means never having to say you're sorry. And acting like Shelley's Ozymandias means that you will forever bid people to "Look on my works, ye might, and despair!"

It's a good thing Donald Trump (and most of his supporters) don't understand irony.

Related vid: "Trump's Syria Strike Won't Solve Any Problems But Could Make Everything Worse."

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  1. Everyone loves Trump’s Syria strike but only because it really won’t change anything?

    the ‘everyone’ sees this as a feature. It reads like a spy novel wherein the heads of various govts and agencies that would ostensibly prefer peace and prosperity have a secret cabal that foments a certain amount of conflict, if not war, because too much stability is bad and war is good for business.

    1. It’s certainly good for the news business. What business were those editors in, again?

      1. Godsdamn, I just noticed something missing from every murder mystery. Who has motive for every murder? Does it ever turn out to be a crime reporter? Sometimes it does turn out to be police or a prosecutor. In my favorite episode of Monk it turned out to be the medical examiner.

  2. Any reason to listen to Judy Garland’s rendition of Battle Hymn of the Republic will do.

  3. This was a predictable result of the Russia-phobia pushed by the media after the election. Interestingly, so called ‘non-interventionists’ went along with that madness in order to appease their betters. You get what you sow

    1. and we have this notion of some message being sent to China as if the Chinese will suddenly forget how much we owe them and side with the Norks. Please. The talking point about Trumputin seems quieted, more so as more dribbles out about how someone in Camp Orange was surveilled, maybe lots of someones. But in Asia, the Chinese will tamp down on the Norks to whatever extent is necessary.

      1. That’s my boy, Norton Nork, you’ve done it again.

  4. I agree that we should not pursue regime change, but it’s very hard to watch Assad (Or Russia) gas Syrian people for the 4th time. It’s also quite upsetting to read about the horrors of ISIS’s brutal slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Christians. Terrorism experts say that ISIS unchecked brutality inspires and motivates sleeper cells and lone wolf attacks.

    Strange that Nick believes it’s good for America to be the world’s “first responder” and caretaker by encouraging refugees and immigrants to come to America, but it’s NOT okay to try to stop the evildoers that cause people to be forced from their homes?

    1. Hey, if you want to go over there and fight ISIS AND Al Qaeda AND the Syrian-Russian alliance, you’re welcome to join the Peshmerga or something on your own dime.

      1. Damn right. And what about all the other horrors going on in the world? Why aren’t we doing something about Venezuela? Female circumcision in Africa? Somali pirates? Duterte’s death squads? Let’s bomb the whole world into peace and love and kumbaya!

        1. I say we take off and nuke the site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

          1. Or we could go discover an ancient alien substance on Phoebe and do some stuff with it and get Eros flung at the site…

    2. How’s that “stopping them” going so far?

      1. Europe’s wondering how opening the gate is working out. It’s possible that neither approach is particularly good.

        1. Man that’s weird. I could have swort I was talking about American intervention in response to another dude talking about American intervention and immigration. But apparently I was talking about Europe this whole time without even realizing it.

          1. Consider it a woke-up call Hugh.

          2. You must have said something at some point that could be interpreted as pro-open borders, therefore all arguments and discussions will forever be brought back to something along the lines of “Well, how’s that open borders working out for Europe, eh smart guy?”

            Because burning strawmen wrapped in a non-sequitor is how you win arguments on the internet.

            1. Talking about the limits of foreign intervention does imply certain concerns over the propriety of borders.

              Otherwise rhetoric about the futility of global intervention (e.g. “Why aren’t we doing something about Venezuela? Female circumcision in Africa? Somali pirates? Duterte’s death squads? Let’s bomb the whole world into peace and love and kumbaya!”) – absent any notions of borders just might also imply that we have no business trying to fix the water fiasco in Flint or send EMS when some fool in Pennsyltucky overdoes it with the OxyIR.

      2. What this really is about is removing that feeling of unease upon seeing children suffering from the gas attack. “I supported the missile strike, so I have done my part in addressing that suffering. Any moral responsibility I might have felt is now satisfied.” Or may be that missile strike made things worse in the long run. Missile strikes usually do.

        1. Well, the war boners will only encourage him to do more. They won’t be satisfied until US missiles kill more Syrian kids than the gas attack did.

    3. Strange that Nick believes it’s good for America to be the world’s “first responder” and caretaker by encouraging refugees and immigrants to come to America, but it’s NOT okay to try to stop the evildoers that cause people to be forced from their homes?

      Next time I’m talking to an EMT I’ll tell them, “Strange that you think it’s fine to treat people who get hurt, because if you really wanted to help you’d be roaming the streets with a gun shooting anyone you thought looked shady”.

      1. As opposed to shooting confirmed heroin dealers.

        There being a slight degree of practical as well as rhetorical difference between the guy who helps people overdose and the guy who merely ‘looks shady.”

        But other than that minor distinction, you sure nailed it.

    4. Strange that Nick believes it’s good for America to be the world’s “first responder” and caretaker by encouraging refugees and immigrants to come to America

      Did he say that? I’m actually asking.

      I’m not too sure how encouraging refugees makes it the world’s “first responder”. Taking refugees is more cleaning up after the fact (not that I think we are necessarily obliged to take any refugees who we aren’t directly responsible for).

    5. Terrorism experts say…

      Oh, “experts say?” Well, that changes everything! /sarc

    6. it’s very hard to watch Assad (Or Russia) gas Syrian people for the 4th time. It’s also quite upsetting to read about the horrors of ISIS’s brutal slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Christians.

      The trouble with a war, is that you generally have to choose only one side. The principle of “OMG we need to ride out on our white horses and help the world’s good guys against the bad guys” is flawed in that in place like Syria, we’re have a hard time finding “good guys” to help.

      You want to hurt Assad? That will help ISIS. You want to hurt ISIS? That will help Assad.

      Reality doesn’t always offer you a convenient solution that makes you feel good. In this case, you get either ISIS or Assad. Pretending there’s some course of action that eliminates both at any reasonable cost is fantasy.

  5. a plurality of Americans (44 percent to 41 percent) are plainly against such action

    If a plurality of Americans jumped off a building, would you?

    1. in this case, a plurality of Americans are opposed to jumping off a building.

      1. Well they must be right, because plurality.

    2. If they go first. Then there would be a good pile of bodies to cushion my fall. And I do enjoy jumping off of things.

      1. AmericNs are also really fat too, so as long as 15 or 20 go first you’re basically jumping onto a trampoline.

      2. Enough go first and you might note have far to fall.

  6. Trump knows what 9/11 did for Bush’s popularity – I’d be real suspicious if some prime real estate in Lower Manhattan suddenly gets blasted into a vacant lot suitable for building a classy hotel.

    1. Yep, I knew a few proggies who couldn’t even utter “President Bush” because he stole the election, but were ecstatic once he started bombing and invaded Iraq. No reason to think it won’t work for Trump, he might even get a BJ now from Tommy Friedman.

    2. I like boms. War is gud

  7. where we somehow are fighting on at least two opposite sides of a civil war

    We’ll have to bomb it to find out what’s in it for us.

  8. I feel like Turkey’s vote this weekend to make Erdogan basically a dictator is will have major repercussions in Syria.. would love to see a piece on that.. media seems to be completely blacking out on this..

  9. “We just dropped the biggest bomb ever on ISIS. It was huge!”

    “The biggest non-nuclear bomb, Mr. President.”

    “Oh.” [turns to Chief of Staff] “What’s the latest on North Korea.”

  10. It’s an odd poll. If you look at it, men are more likely to support ground troops, and they’re also more likely to oppose ground troops.

  11. Think of it as being akin to the movie True Romance, where the hero, played by Christian Slater, simply decided that he could no longer breath the same air as “Drexel.” So he goes out and kills him. It’s a very American reaction. Indeed, a very human one.

    The problem here is that Trump didn’t simply whack Assad. He just broke some of his stuff.

  12. Indeed, Trump bears the responsibility ultimately, but that doesn’t mean all the people in the media who encouraged him are not also responsible… In case someone is interested, I wrote a very detailed blog post, in which I examine the evidence about the recent chemical attack and compare the situation with what happened after the chemical attack in Ghouta in August 2013. I argue that, in that previous case, the media narrative had rapidly unravelled and that, for that reason, we should be extremely prudent about the recent attack and not jump to conclusions. It’s more than 5,000 words long and I provide a source for every single factual claim I make. I really believe it’s the most thorough discussion of the allegations against Assad with respect to his alleged use of chemical weapons out there. Please share it if you thought it was interesting.

    1. Very informative blog. Sadly your hard work contradicts the Conventional Wisdom. In a few hours Trump has been transformed from a Russian lackey into a fearless Commander In Chief raining down justice and revenge on the world’s worst evildoer. The narrative has been written and will be regurgitated in history books until Armageddon finally arrives.

      1. Thanks for the nice words. You’re probably right, but it can’t do any harm to try and present a more skeptical outlook. Anyway, if you liked my post and want to help, please share it!

  13. Where does such a mind-set come from?

    You’re asking a good Q, but don’t provide an A. Not saying you had to, but please don’t tease.

    The disconnect between the professional [s]thinkers & the polls is striking…but could it be simply an artifact of lag? We get editorials right away, but it takes a while to compose a poll, take it, & report the results. Maybe if we could get it right now, vox pop would be as hawkish as the stinkers.

    Could it be simply that those in the news biz have a vested interest in news? Make war, make nx, make biz for reporting the nx. They probably set fires & cause wrecks on the sly too.

  14. There is nothing presidential about lobbing a few missles at a country with no follow-up or discussion of the potential outcome. This is just a different version of the minority president’s response to something he saw on TV. Only this time instead of a nasty tweet, he launced some tomahawk missles. The big question is now what?

    1. Agreed. On the one hand I think taking this action, absent Congressional approval, is un Constitutional, on the other hand I think that Congressional approval would HAVE BEEN an open door to ever greater intervention.

      So, for now at least, better the devil we know.

      1. didn’t really notice the shouting, not sure how that happened.

  15. After seeing a guy take an axe and cut his balls off in a video online my freshman year of college, images of disturbing things do not bother me as much. Is Assad a brutal thug and deserve any bad coming his way? Absolutely. Show we be involved? No, because him gassing his own people does not change my life and ousting him does not make the US any safer. Based on Iraq and Libya, the exact opposite will happen. How are we all so stupid?

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