In Search of the Trump Doctrine

On April 10, 2017, in Editorial, Trump, by Bill

On 6 April, 2017, President Trump launched a 60 missile airstrike (60 were launched, one failed and landed in the water) against the Syrian airfield at Shayrat.  This site was associated with the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons program and was directly linked to a horrific chemical gas attack on Tuesday, 4 April 2017  on a village 50 miles to the presidential sealsouth where more than 80 civilians died.  As I write this, the  “battle damage assessment” is still being done by the U. S. Pentagon.  But the world-wide response from this airstrike is predictable and not surprising at all. Traditional U.S. allies voiced appreciation for a strong U.S. response. Syrian allies condemned the attack as a “flagrant violation of international law and an act of aggression” and hold the U.S. directly accountable for the lost of civilian life that occurred during the strike.

Some political conservatives saw the military operation as a U. S. show of force and decisiveness and a deterrent to North Korean and Iran.  Some of a more liberal vein said the President should have gotten Congressional approval before widening the U. S. involvement in the Syrian civil war.  In either case, the Thursday missile attack is nowhere near the end of U.S. involvement in Syria or escalating Russian ill will. And it is not the firm establishment of a Trump Doctrine in its own right – not yet.

As I wrote six years ago on April 5, 2011, in regards to the establishment of what I viewed to be a poorly conceived Obama Doctrine, Presidential Doctrines are firmly declarative: “If you as a nation do something we as a nation view as a negative, we will view your action as a hostile act and reserve the right to respond as we deem fit.”  After listening to Mr. Trump’s announcement of the airstrike on Thursday night, it appears that his foreign policy will be based on his mood. And if that’s the case, such a Doctrine will be unsustainable and short-lived.

It was clear that Mr. Trump was visibly shaken by the pictures of the “beautiful babies [that] were cruelly murdered.” If, and I repeat if, that was the only reason he thought sending 60 Tomahawk missiles to Syria was the right thing to do, it says more about him as a person than it does about us as a people.  The Trump Doctrine simply can not be that ‘we, a nation founded by refugees and immigrants, do not want you as a refugee to flee to here from your war-torn country, but we are perfectly willing to avenge your death after you die.’ And yet that is exactly what the current state of the Trump Doctrine is becoming – and it is wrong.

Damaging  the Syrian airfield has to be part of a bigger foreign policy overview toward the Syrian civil war and not just the result of the President’s emotional state at the moment.  The below video by Ezra Klein provides historical context for the U. S. involvement in the Syrian civil war and why logic, not emotions have to drive the discourse:

The 1993 Clinton Doctrine made it very clear what the character of our nation is: “we can say to the people of the world, whether you live in Africa, or Central Europe, or any other place, if somebody comes after innocent civilians and tries to kill them en masse because of their race, their ethnic background or their religion, and it’s within our power to stop it, we will stop it.”  That is all the rationale Mr. Trump would have needed to do what he did on Thursday. But now having personalize his actions the way he did, we and world must wait to see where the Trump Doctrine and Mr. Trump’s emotional state takes us next.

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