We were told to expect the unexpected when Trump was elected. The bombing of a Syrian-Russian air base where chemical weapons attacks were masterminded was still not anticipated by anyone. This shows two things: first that we’re still caught in a stupor after Trump’s win, still hoping that his foreign policy will be the same as Obama’s. And that the press has been so burnt out by everything going on at home with the Russia investigation and his million-dollar golfing bills spent by the taxpayer involuntarily.
We’ve got to work harder at trying to predict this man - otherwise we’ll constantly be on outrage campaigns which fall on the deaf ears of ideologically motivated and fake news-armed Republicans. Predicting him means we can be more organised, measured, and logical in our rebuttal to his presidency. The job of the news from now on - no matter how exhausting it is, should be to devote lots of its time to analysing every aspect of his presidency, not just the domestic side. That’s hard, but it can be done. It just needs motivation.
And if preventing a hot (or even cold) conflict between world powers isn’t motivation enough, then we’ve got to take a long hard look at ourselves.
The brash nature of these bombings (and the fact that Russia was only informed by the time the missiles were in the air) means three things: chiefly and most importantly that Putin has an opportunity to paint Russia as the moderate, sane party which would never have done such a blatantly aggressive thing. Spoiler: the Putin regime is neither moderate nor sane on any level at all. Giving him the opportunity to start that narrative, where the US seems like it is aggressively throwing its weight around is dangerous in that it gives the Russian regime more legitimacy in everything it does.
Just because it’s madcap Putin does not mean that people won’t listen. The perception of Trump as antagonistic from his business career means that that narrative, where Russia is the moderate, is actually feasible and persuasive. A regime who persecutes homosexuals and props up brutal dictators in central Asia does not need more credibility.
Second, it reinforces the idea in Trump’s mind that he can rule without the need to go through any protocol or organisation like congress or the UN. I would be infinitely happier with the strikes if the security council had been consulted: checks and balances like these exist for the reason that they limit the terrible power offered up by modern weapons. Going past that body, like he’s gone past the senate on the recent supreme court judge’s appointment and past congress for the failed travel bans gives the impression that he can rule without any checks on his power. For an egomaniac like Trump, that’s dangerous.
Thirdly, it makes the Syrian conflict even more complicated than it already was. In the space of a year, the US has bombed both opposing sides in the civil war: ISIS and the Assad regime who are fighting them. The Middle East has suffered so many deaths - of civilians and foreign soldiers - because of US interventionism. You’d have thought they’d have learned after Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, all conflicts that made the local political situation far worse.
This is not in any capacity saying that those chemical attacks were okay. The use of any chemical weapons - especially nerve agents like sarin gas - is disgusting and the regime responsible should be treated with contempt for human rights by the international community. However, that does not justify a snap, ill-thought-out decision that will escalate and complicate the civil war, and strain relations on the geopolitical stage at a tense, uncertain time.
A more measured, legal response that did not bypass international law and convention would be more befitting of the most powerful country on Earth - and as always, they have to get round the negotiating table at some point. Why not now, when the death toll to come can be limited to its current levels? Blinding patriotism by the ‘world’s police’ seems to be the answer.