Prior to the Trump era, the primary duty of Sunday news-watchers was to keep an eye on the Sunday shows to see which conservative (and it was always a conservative; liberals on the Sunday shows are as fleeting as cherry blossoms) said the most outrageous or, more commonly patently false thing. During this new Trumpocene, that practice has largely been supplanted by watching Donald J. Trump’s own frantic weekend tweets, the ones where he sputters about oft-imaginary accomplishments and, reliably, attacks our nation’s press institutions as “fake”, demanding his loyalists believe whatever he says they should believe, rather than what objective fact suggests to be true.
The two are becoming increasingly linked, of late, as Donald Trump tweets ominous things and conservatives (and it is still, always, conservatives) react to his Twitter feed on … the Sunday shows.
Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 8, 2018
That was Trump’s early morning tweet, a mini-thread suggesting a “Big price… / ….to pay” for the latest chemical weapons attack by Syrian military. It was also, as the New York Times could not help but note, “the first time since his election that he has criticized the Russian leader [Vladimir Putin] by name on Twitter.” That led to the baffling exercise of having Trump’s own team try to parse out just what the sitting president was suggesting in his tweets.
“I wouldn’t take anything off the table,” [Trump homeland security adviser Tom Bossert] said on ABC’s “This Week.” “These are horrible photos; we’re looking into the attack at this point.”
That raised the prospect of a strike along the lines of one that the president ordered almost exactly a year ago after a sarin gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun that killed more than 80 civilians. In that strike, the United States military dropped 59 Tomahawk missiles on the Al Shayrat airfield, where the chemical weapons attack had originated.
That April 2017 strike barely dented Syrian air force capabilities, as it appears the regime was tipped off the action was coming by Russia, which had been itself alerted by the US military before the attack. (We will note in passing that during the campaign, Trump repeatedly blustered that past chemical attacks and other world turmoil was the result of having a “weak” president, and that if he was in charge these things wouldn’t happen. We note this only to suggest that any red-faced twit that believed him was and remains a thundering moron—or as Trump prefers to call them, his base.)
So will we be bombing Syria again? And if so, will it be a substantive attack meant to put a stop to their chemical weapons capabilities, or a token effort? We do not know, and we do not know because Donald Trump has spent the last week privately insisting that the United States should be withdrawing from Syria entirely. This has alarmed other members of the United States’ coalition against ISIS, who are wary of a rapid U.S. policy change—of the sort that has happened before—potentially abandoning them to fight both Assad and ISIS simultaneously. The Trump urgency to withdraw has also been widely seen as a boon to Putin, who days later being is singled out by Trump as an enabler of the chemical attack; Russia sees the survival of the pro-Russia Assad regime to be a key effort in shoring up Russia’s influence in the region in the wake of the U.S. war against Iraq.
So as of the moment, we genuinely have no notion just what the administration policy towards ongoing Syrian war may be. Anything from a high-profile strike to near-immediate withdrawal, or neither, or both, may be on the table. It’s impossible to tell; the military itself appears to not know itself.
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