When Donald Trump launched those missiles at Syria last week, the entire American political and media establishment went into a swoon."I think Donald Trump became President of the United States last night," Fareed Zakaria said on CNN, reflecting a common view. Even the failing New York Times (as Mr. Trump invariably calls it) applauded.
Everyone from the neocons to the liberal interventionists agreed it was the right thing to do. At one stroke, Mr. Trump sent a message to the evil Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, distanced himself from Russian President Vladimir Putin and showed the Chinese and the North Koreans he means business. Yes, America is back! He also showed there really is a line, and that civilized countries will not tolerate slaughtering people with poison gas. "No child of God should suffer such horror," said Mr. Trump – a sentiment with which few can disagree.
Personally, I'm glad he did it. It probably can't hurt. But Mr. Trump is a man who is completely guided by the instinct of the moment. There's no use trying to figure out the Trump Doctrine, because the Trump Doctrine is whatever impulse feels right to him right now. "Let Syria and ISIS fight," he declared during his run for the Republican presidential nomination. "Why do we care?" I'm sure he genuinely meant that at the time, just as much as he means anything he says at any given moment.
Mr. Trump's main source of information is cable TV. He is, as his advisers say, an "auditory and visual learner," which means he can't be bothered with briefing notes and details. He saw those pathetic little corpses on Fox News one night and got upset, and thus a missile strike was born. I doubt he's given much deep thought to what comes next. Besides, there were so many bonus points! He made Barack Obama look like a spineless wimp. He took people's minds off the fiascoes, the failures and the knife fights in the White House. Best of all, he forced all the people he hates and despises to admit that he looks like a winner.
The thing you should never forget about Mr. Trump is his bottomless, insatiable need for approval. That's what drives him more than anything. He styles himself as the tough outsider who's not afraid to take on the elites. But really, what he wants is for the elites to love him – especially the mainstream media and the policy poobahs who he professes to detest, and the failing New York Times above all.
Whether any of God's children will be spared by Mr. Trump's missile strike is anybody's guess. The cynic in me says that Mr. al-Assad will simply hide the poison gas and go back to bombing, mutilating and murdering infants in the normal way. Who's going to stop him? Not the "international community," on which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is calling to step up and show its resolve. They're not interested. The fact is that as long as Russia and China sit on the UN Security Council, Mr. Trudeau would have better luck calling on the Easter Bunny.
In fact, Mr. al-Assad's fate will depend heavily on the judgment of Mr. Trump and his advisers and generals, and whether he wades into the Middle Eastern swamp with more than token military action. That's when stuff gets complicated. As for the fate of those millions of displaced Syrians, good luck to them. Mr. Trump has shown he doesn't give a damn.
I do think one unintended good thing has come out of this. Chief White House strategist Steve Bannon has suffered a bad, if not mortal, blow. Mr. Bannon hated the idea of a strike. But his credibility is shot, because almost everything he's touched has gone sour and the strike went well. He even tangled with the son-in-law – a no-no in any family business, which is what the White House has become. Mr. Bannon actually believes he's living in a real-life Game of Thrones, and that Winter is coming. Fortunately for us all, he may soon be written out of the script.
Not that Jared Kushner – now the President's senior adviser, especially on foreign affairs – is anyone you'd want guiding the Trump Doctrine. He's a jumped-up rich kid whose daddy wrote a giant cheque to help him get into Harvard. As with many things in Trumpland, perhaps we should be grateful it isn't worse.
Which is about the way I feel about that Tomahawk cruise-missile strike. It was a spectacular piece of performance art. Where things go from here is anybody's guess.