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  Opinion   Columnists  13 Apr 2017  How the Syrian conflict made a hero out of Trump

How the Syrian conflict made a hero out of Trump

Published : Apr 13, 2017, 3:22 am IST
Updated : Apr 13, 2017, 3:22 am IST

Long-term solutions must be sustainable; exogenous influences can never produce sustainable stability.

US President Donald Trump (Photo: AP)
 US President Donald Trump (Photo: AP)

The obituary for liberalism was perhaps prematurely written and published. A few months ago, when Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States and announced his policy of “America First”, many mourned.

The premises which hold that States are moral creatures and that the purpose of the US is to spread the values of liberal democracy across the world seemed weaker than ever. They floundered further still in the months following as America under Donald Trump, seemed uncommitted to liberalism itself, seeming to prefer a sort of direct democracy that would enable a strongman ruler who ruled largely via executive orders that did not require legislative approval.

If not dead, liberalism seemed precipitously in decline, America looking increasingly inward, the world left to its own authoritarian futures. Mr Trump wasn’t interested in the world, let alone policing it; within weeks he had spurned the handshakes of America’s liberal allies and promised his supporters to uphold nationalism over liberalism. He thumbed his nose at Nato allies, promised he would drastically cut US diplomatic and aid programmes and hack off enormous portions of the UN budget provided by the US.

Then came last week. Following yet another chemical attack in Syria, this time in Idlib province, the conscience of the US, or rather its President, seemed suddenly moved. Horrific chemical attacks have happened before, taking scores of lives. Many of these have also deployed nerve agents. This new attack was not different in technique than those that have come before. This one was different, however, in timing. It came at an hour when the new American President found himself increasingly beleaguered, several of his promises left to flounder. Mr Trump’s failure to get Congress to pass the healthcare reform bill was damning, given that both the Senate and the House of Representatives are controlled by his party. The travel bans that had made so many of his supporters giddy with joy in their hatred of refugees and immigrants, were blocked by judges who saw them as discriminatory.

If all that were not enough, there was the matter of the Trump administration officials who were the focus of congressional investigations into Russia’s alleged meddling in the US elections. Mr Trump likes to win, and he was losing; midweek he removed his favoured adviser, Stephen Bannon, from the National Security Council. Just a bit later, he decided to bomb Syria. The very Syrian children whom he had tried to ban from entering the US, now deserved avenging, and America, the same America that had sworn off putting other countries first, would be the one to do it.

Liberal hawks who had been languishing in their funeral caskets during the dismal, less-than-100-day-old Trump presidency, rose from the dead. The policeman of the world was not dead after all. The day after the air strikes, a resounding barrage of editorials in American newspapers celebrated the action. The noted CNN commentator, Fareed Zakaria, declared it as being the moment that Mr Trump had truly become President of the United States.

It is clear from the continuing hubbub, which has commenced apace even as little else is known about Mr Trump’s plans for Syria, or even if he has any further plans for Syria at all, that for many pro-intervention liberals, being the President of the US means being the President of the world. Mr Trump has at least for now embraced this, perhaps because he has also just realised the political efficacy of the insistence that all American actions are morally right actions. The hapless Syrians, suffering as long as they have, may cheer in their desperation but they cannot with any confidence claim that America will solve the internecine and multidimensional conflict raging in their country.

Long-term solutions must be sustainable; exogenous influences can never produce sustainable stability. None of this is truer than in situations in which extremist groups are a component. As was seen in Afghanistan and Pakistan, local extremist organisations only gain strength when anti-imperialist propaganda is whetted by American intervention. So too, will be the case in Syria. Mr Trump probably does not care about any of this. Nor do the liberals who unerringly salivate at the prospect of war to spread their version of what is good and right for all. Far more likely is the simpler and more pedestrian explanation: Syria has been a timely distraction for a man struggling to stabilise his administration. The drums of war (or perhaps the launch of missiles) automatically convert even village idiots into heroes, and while Donald Trump may not have wanted war, he wants very much to be a hero.

By arrangement with the Dawn

Tags: donald trump, liberalism, chemical attack in syria