The Weight of the World
It appears that President Donald Trump is beginning to realize the gravity and importance of the responsibilities placed on him as Commander-in-Chief of the United States. As leader of the free world he could not stand by and allow the heinous act of killing almost one hundred people in a sarin gas attack by the Syrian government go unpunished. He chose a missile strike on the airbase that was the launching point of the gas attack as the mechanism to punish the Assad regime for a horrible breach of human rights.
The gas attack was also a breach of the 2013 agreement between Russia and the US to eliminate weapons of mass destruction from the Syrian conflict. Then-president Obama had opted for a diplomatic agreement in lieu of military action. But diplomatic solutions only work when the parties to the agreement are acting in good faith (or compulsion). When working with counterparties like Assad, Putin and Khamenei good faith is hard to come by. President Trump’s missile strike sends a message to the thugs around the world that there is a new marshal in town. It was an interesting juxtaposition that the strike took place while President Trump was meeting with President Xi of China. Without having to say a word, Xi got the message about North Korea.
Although the Trump administration has begun with fits and starts, miscalculations and downright boners, a pattern is beginning to emerge. They say that the responsibility of being president changes a man (or a woman in the future). Are we beginning to see President Trump to begin acting presidential (if we can just get him to stay off Twitter)?
The TV pundits point to all the false starts and personnel changes in these early days of the Trump administration. It may be that the initial personnel of his administration were derived largely from the campaign and from people he knew in the business world. The appointment of Steve Bannon to the National Security Council presaged a more political focus on intelligence but his recent removal has allowed General McMaster to assume his proper role overseeing intelligence.
The Washington Post has highlighted some of the political infighting in the White house as the administration shifts from campaigning to governing. Some of the campaign-based rhetoric has also been shifting. Building the wall on the southern border is still a priority but it looks like the American taxpayer will be paying for it (at least initially). And it looks like NAFTA is going to be renegotiated rather than dumped. NAFTA is outdated. It was signed before there was an Internet or World Wide Web. At the very least it needs to be brought into the 21st century. But President Trump is probably learning in his meetings with CEOs that the US/Mexico supply chain is so thoroughly interdependent that simplistic solutions just won’t work. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Trans-Pacific Partnership makes a come back as it is now apparent that this was more a multilevel response to China than a simple trade agreement.
President Trump’s discourse is still wrangles the ear. And many of his opponents wouldn’t listen to a word he said even if he gave a speech worthy of Winston Churchill. And I don’t doubt there are many missteps and personnel changes yet to come. But he does appear to be learning. Learning not how to appear to be presidential but to actually be presidential.
We are not out of the woods yet. But I do discern some small glints of light through the impenetrable forest. Now if someone would just take away his smart phone. How ‘bout it, Ivanka?
Additional comment: The Syrian missile strike also highlights America’s special position in the world. Many people scoff at the concept of American exceptionalism. Even President Trump has derided American globalism in his push for America First. During the campaign he was quoted as saying, “we have to stop being the policemen of the world.”
But truth be told, no other nation or international organization could have done what the United States just did. Germany and France are not inclined to act (although France has taken decisive action on occasion in their former African colonies). The United Nations couldn’t even issue a condemnation of the act. Russia and China seek to overthrow the western world order not to preserve and protect it. And Turkey is too busy stifling its democracy to take principled action. No, only the United States has the moral authority and military power to punish this evil act. The world has been waiting anxiously for America to put back on the mantle of leadership. All of us have learned over the last eight years that when the United States does not take the lead, bad things begin to happen. The role of world leader will require us to sacrifice our blood and treasure. This was something candidate Trump did not want to do. But this isn't about winning, its about leading.