Donald Trump's war and the 'Madman theory' -

Donald Trump’s war and the ‘Madman theory’

The attack on Syria was very likely the right thing to do. It was also confusing, risky and unpredictable—just like the President

U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71) fires a tomahawk land attack missile in Mediterranean Sea on April 7, 2017. Robert S. Price/Courtesy U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. - RTX34H98

U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71) fires a tomahawk land attack missile in Mediterranean Sea on April 7, 2017. Robert S. Price/Courtesy U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump ordered a surgical strike against the Syrian military Thursday evening in retaliation for recent chemical weapon attacks against civilians. Trump gave the order to launch more than 50 cruise missiles at the Shayrat Airfield in Homs province in western Syria, from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, where he is currently entertaining visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Reaction to the attack has been confused. Republican politicians, who earlier this week claimed America had no reason to fight Syria, instantly expressed their approval of the decision on social media. Also on social media were Trump supporters who had once accused his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton of being a “warmonger”; unlike the congressmen, some are sticking to their personal convictions and openly criticizing the President for the attack. Meanwhile, longstanding critics of the President are also navigating their own cognitive dissonance as they try to reconcile their desperate desire to end Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s bloody reign with a deep conviction that Donald Trump is wrong about everything, everywhere, every time.

What is more broadly shared, though, is a fear that the attack could escalate. The Syrian government is backed by Russia, and not only are there Russian military forces on the ground, there are reports some are based at the Shayrat airbase itself. While Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are two of the most powerful leaders in the world, ironically both are feeling desperately vulnerable at home (Putin faces a collapsing economy, Trump a congressional investigation into…Russia). Some violent jingoism, maybe even a tense military standoff, would be politically useful to both of them.

But the early signs are promising that this might be avoided. The Trump White House wisely agreed to telegraph their attack to the Russians well in advance. This presumably gave the Kremlin enough time to evacuate any of their military personnel from the target area. It also gave them time to warn some of their local allies—Lebanese journalists reported several families of Syrian generals crossed the border in the hours just before the strike.

RELATED: U.S. air strikes on Assad targets in Syria: What we know so far

It is also likely that the military operation was not rashly planned overnight. The Pentagon has been considering various Syrian scenarios for years now, and it is probable that this target, and even the number of Tomahawk cruise missiles fired, was decided upon years ago when President Barack Obama was still talking about “red lines”. This is to say that we can find a measure of reassurance in thinking this option had been thought through, debated, revised, and refined many times before it was brought to Trump in Florida for his approval.

Nonetheless, if we can say Trump has any real geopolitical strategy at all, then we have to acknowledge his frequent approval of the “Madman theory”. This was an idea that emerged during Henry Kissinger’s days in the Nixon White House, that America’s adversaries would tread carefully if they were never really sure how crazy the President might actually be. It’s hard not to see Trump’s decision to attack Syria, and by implication its ally Russia, in that light. Trump predicted he would be unpredictable. Once again, we should have listened to him.

And, as a fervent critic of the President myself, I am left grappling with my own confusion about these unexpected events. The war in Syria has dragged on now for just over six years. It has cost the lives of half a million, and displaced another 11 million more. The refugee crisis has not only destabilized the region, it has shaken Europe and weakened NATO. The failure of the world to stop the suffering in Syria, suffering that is recorded and beamed into our pockets every day, is the great crime of this age.

It is entirely possible Trump ordered this attack simply to look tough and virile, to ape Putin’s bare chested posing. And there is a strong chance those missiles were launched just to distract us from the ongoing Russia scandal that threatens to end this presidency. It’s even possible, when you consider the almost daily displays of White House mismanagement and confusion, that this missile strike was a mistake. But, nonetheless, it is very likely it will turn out this was the right thing to do, and something that should have been done several years ago.


Donald Trump’s war and the ‘Madman theory’

  1. Osama bin Laden said that he decided in 1982, after watching the attack on Lebanon… attack the US in return, And that he would do it in such a way that the US would be running to and fro, always thinking there was another attack occurring. He intended to break the US financially by having them jump at shadows.

    Seems like he accomplished that. The US is now shooting at anything that moves…..and spending a fortune to do it.

    • May we assume that you are a devotee of Osama bin Laden … who was unable to print his own money?

  2. I do not know if the attack was right thing to do because I am becoming distrustful of the news and have no reliable information. Is this a Gulf of Tonkin thing? The attack is in any case illegal, however; Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution of the USA recognizes that only Congress may declare war. Further, the Constitution does not declare the American president to be “the leader of the free world” (nor does anyone else), or the world’s police officer.

    Where IS the UN, by the way?

    • Trump did not declare war on Syria and approval from Congress was, therefore, not required. He made an attempt to remove the Syrian regime’s ability to deploy chemical weapons. Have little doubt-neither Syria nor Russia want a war with the U.S.
      Frankly, though, I liked it better when he said that he was President of America, not President of the world. Americans are generally hated around the world because they meddle too much in other countries’ issues. There is not one country where Obama helped arm rebels during “The Arab Spring” that is better off today than they were before.

      • Perhaps, some would argue the legality of congressional approval equals the legality of using chemical weapons.

  3. Quote; “This is to say that we can find a measure of reassurance in thinking this option had been thought through, debated, revised, and refined many times before it was brought to Trump in Florida for his approval.”

    This information should be forwarded to Kim Jong-un.

  4. The US warns the Russians who warn the Syrians that this “surgical” strike is coming. And this achieves what? And this was probably the right thing to do because? I could not find an argument supporting that conclusion in this article.

  5. Why the US is resisting independent investigation by the experts to find out who is responsible for this atrocities that innocent civilians including children were killed? Any guess why, if they are 95% sure that it was done by Syrian air force?

  6. But he had ‘Beautiful’ chocolate cake.