Donald Trump ordered an airstrike on a Syrian military base. Sure, you read that headline last week. But have you really let it sink in?
Even in a Trump casino, hardly anyone would have bet that the one leader enforcing the global ban on chemical weapons would be the man who won the election by declaring, “It will always be America first.”
We never would have guessed that the same Trump who recently told a White House audience, “I don’t want to be president of the world, I want to be president of the United States,” would become the foremost defender of Syrian children — expending around $60 million worth of missiles to take a stand against the baby-killing dictator.
So what’s the next move? Pretend this abrupt change didn’t happen? Perhaps we will see the muscle flexing as a brief aberration, and soon the more familiar, isolationist Trump will re-emerge. That would be the real estate mogul and TV host who in 2013 tweeted his advice to Barack Obama: “To our very foolish leader, do not attack Syria,” explaining, “There is no upside and tremendous downside.”
Trump cannot, however, undo his decision. The die is cast, or in gamblers’ terms the dice have been thrown. Trump said he’s proud to be “flexible,” by changing his mind on striking Syria, so the world can join in the guessing game of where that flexibility will take America and the world.
The course of events might not be determined by Trump. There could, for instance, be revenge attacks by extremists sent by Syria or its backers, Russia and Iran. Security had better be stepped up. Indeed, an increased sense of danger will add to Trump’s determination to stop the entry of refugees from the Middle East, while cutting sharply the number of visitors from the troubled region.
He has a choice between two broad approaches to pursue his goals. The first option is to go back to being the disruptor-in-chief. It was the unpredictable, freewheeling Trump who won the election. Why mess with success? However, his accomplishments since taking office have been few, and his approval rating sank below 40 percent.
I recommend a second option, and please permit me to address the president:
Sir, be the new, focused, and decisive leader who struck Syria last week. Remove or demote the advisers who see everything through the politicized prism of what position can win more votes. Listen to the aides who have experience in making the life-or-death decisions that the military and the government cannot sidestep or fudge.
There is no turning back. This would be a terrific time to walk away from the tweeting, even though you claim it is your only reliable way of communicating with the American people when the media keep lying.
The news media will take you seriously when you act in serious, significant ways. Yes, we will want to know how decisions are made; how solid, for example, was the evidence of Syrian misdeeds; and whether staff upheavals at the White House herald a period of policy changes that veer away from your original tack. We will keep asking, and we will publish or broadcast the answers we believe to be true. That is what we do.
Now, the nation and the world hope that you will fully wear the mantle of leader. Fulfill the promises you made in your speech to Congress on Feb. 28, when you trumpeted: “The time for small thinking is over. The time for trivial fights is behind us.”
You got high marks that night, even from the media you consider “enemies of the people,” for a carefully written speech that you undeviatingly read. When you tweet or speak off the cuff, the eloquence is gone and logic seems fuzzy.
So please, think before you speak; and think especially deeply about our country’s global impact. When you figure it out, Mr. Trump, tell us whether being the world’s policeman will be part of “making America great again.”
Dan Raviv, correspondent in Washington for i24 News, is author of “Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.”