Surprising no one, Walter Russell Mead’s commentary on the attack on the Syrian government is wrong:
President Trump faced his first serious foreign-policy test this week. To the surprise and perhaps frustration of his critics, he passed with flying colors.
Far from being frustrated, many of Trump’s critics across the political spectrum have been vindicated. We have said that his foreign policy views were incoherent, and he has shown that to be true beyond all expectations. He went from supposedly being a firm opponent of intervention against the Syrian government to ordering an attack on the same government within the space of a week. He has been charged with being a militarist and predisposed to respond to problems with nothing more than military options, and he has confirmed that charge beyond doubt. He has demonstrated his recklessness and his readiness to use force even though no U.S. interests were at stake. His critics believed that he was ill-prepared to conduct foreign policy and that he would be incompetent in a crisis, and he has regrettably proved us right.
Trump ordered an illegal attack on a government that posed no threat to the U.S. If we judge his action based on its effectiveness and its success in advancing U.S. interests, Trump has to be judged a clear failure. He “passes” only if we judge him on the absurd basis of simply “doing something”–no matter how useless or irrational–in response to a foreign conflict. Attacking for the sake of attacking is not a responsible or desirable response, but that is what Trump has done.
Mead says that the attack on Syria has “won approval from Jacksonians.” That isn’t really true, and it’s funny that he would say this when he is supposedly such an expert on what “Jacksonian” Americans want. “Jacksonians” don’t care if foreign governments commit heinous acts, they don’t want their government to punish them for it with acts of war, and they don’t approve of involving the U.S. in foreign civil wars unless American security is at stake. Striking at Syrian government targets this week is the least “Jacksonian” thing Trump could do, and it will not please his so-called “Jacksonian” supporters. Insofar as vocal Trump supporters are “Jacksonians,” many of them have made a point of objecting to his decision to attack the Syrian government. Mead is not paying attention to what actual Trump supporters are saying.
Mead says that “[t]he strikes vindicated America’s prestige and dealt a clear setback to those who seek to humiliate or marginalize the U.S.” It is hard to see how launching illegal military action that achieves nothing helps America’s prestige with anyone that wasn’t already eager for an attack on the Syrian government. At best, it has no effect one way or the other, and it is more likely that it makes the U.S. look vindictive or reckless. At worst, the action embarrasses the U.S. by being ineffective and unwarranted.
Mead also says that the strike was internationally “popular,” but that is hard to credit. Some U.S. allies endorsed the action, while others were more circumspect, and others said nothing at all. China and Indonesia were displeased, and Russia was firmly opposed. The international response was mixed, and the potential costs of this action are higher than any benefits that the U.S. might receive.
Mead claims that “Trump handled the process well.” That is so ridiculous that I almost have to assume it is a joke. Trump simply bypassed any process and ordered the attack. Congress’ role was ignored. The role of allies was ignored. The role of the U.N. and other major powers was ignored. That is the opposite of handling the process “well.” That is a refusal to handle the process at all. As ever, Mead’s analysis is worse than useless. It actively misleads his readers and tells them things that are not true.