What is the “Trump Doctrine” when it comes to use of force against the world’s worst rogues?
It seems that the President’s forceful response last week in Syria was heavily motivated by the disturbing images of what he called “beautiful little babies” dying from Sarin gas. Over the course of less than 72 hours, some pictures apparently changed the course of our Syria policy.
Without wishing to sound callous, how is this a good standard for when, if at all, we should strike?
First, it’s natural and human to have a visceral reaction to photos. When you and I tear up or get angry at images of suffering, there’s little we can actually do.
But President Trump is both a human being, and a commander-in-chief.
So, is there a “Trump Doctrine”? And is it something like, if you gas children, you get warheads on foreheads?
Clearly, there was no direct threat to US national security interests from Assad’s gas shells, or his copious use of the dreaded “barrel bombs”. By that strange standard, every nation’s arsenal would be a potential threat, too.
There are civil wars and vicious regimes all around the world, resulting in families being ripped apart and children suffering. But, what if no one takes a picture or video? Will there be a red line there, too? Will there be a Tomahawk storm in their forecast? Or are they spared because it’s not visual enough to compel us to act?
I’m not making a moral equivalency argument here, but even well-meaning Western powers kill civilians, including children, with aerial bombing’s “collateral damage”, errant drones and the like. Could we always measure up under this new standard, if this is the new standard?
It gets more complicated: super-hawks in D.C. like Senator McCain now say that the Trump administration’s tacit acceptance of Assad’s grip on power emboldened the tyrant. Secretary of State Tillerson responds, correctly, that if you blame last week’s chemical weapons attack on Team Trump, how do you explain the numerous past atrocities Assad committed?
We cannot have a foreign policy that merely responds to every heart-wrenching photo, or else we will be led around by master manipulators who will make sure our media and the people “see” the “right” images at the right times.
If there is to be a “Trump Doctrine”, it needs to be about more than Kodak moments.