President Trump's missile strikes on the Syrian airfield did not get universal praise. Many people were outraged, a lot more were concerned that the rapid change of policy, without a long range plan, could be the first step toward blundering into war.
But Trump also got a lot of admiration and approbation -- from pundits and from politicians from both parties. Some admired the action itself, feeling that it was proportionate to the humanitarian tragedy created by Assad. Others, who had chafed under President Obama's more studied and cautious approach, felt vindicated by a leader who would just draw a line and say "Enough. Take THAT." And worry about the consequences later.
For me, the initial positive note was not a judgment on the wisdom of the decision but the simple fact that, in an emergency, the Trump national defense team could assess analytically and act decisively; and, at least in first assessment, could do so successfully. Of course, it wasn't an emergency, but it did demonstrate a level of competence that I had worried was not there, especially after the botched planning for the raid in Yemen.
Now, a few days later, as the results begin to become clear, assessing the wisdom of the decision puts a broader range of considerations in the spotlight. I'll write about that in another post, but I'll let John Oliver have the first crack at it. After some scathing criticism of the overblown -- Oliver called it "orgasmic" -- praise for the action by some cable news hosts, here's his important contribution.
He enumerated some serious questions that must be answered. Then he said that the truth is that, even though the bombing made some people feel good ('There! We finally stood up to evil.'), in fact the strikes actually achieved nothing. The airfield still works, planes took off from there the next day.
But here was his pithy assessment: "There needs to be a tangible strategy acknowledging how difficult taking on Assad actually is. Because right now we have a president who feeds off praise. And he just got a lot of it for bombing someone. And that should make everyone very, very worried."
Right on, John. This president does not think deeply; he reacts to the moment. And he especially reacts to the size, and the roar, of the crowd -- either for him or against him. So let's be careful what we reinforce.
The risk here is that what he internalized from this is the link: "I ordered air strikes. And people loved me for it."
That's very dangerous with those hands on the button.