Freddy Gray sees similarities between Obama and Trump when it comes to ordering military interventions:
Something similar is happening with Trump and Syria. In both cases, American leaders have been pushed against their better instincts into taking military action. Trump and Obama are instinctively more dovish than the foreign policy establishments in Paris, London and Washington. But they are quite easily led.
I take Gray’s point, but I don’t think “more dovish” than the foreign policy consensus is the right way to describe either of these men. Trump is not really “more dovish” than the foreign policy establishment so much as he is more selfish and impatient. He isn’t against raining down death and destruction on other countries in principle or in practice. He just doesn’t want the responsibility and the commitment that come from cleaning up the mess and helping to rebuild afterwards. Trump has often been mistaken for being less interventionist because he has criticized prolonged “nation-building” efforts, but he has never been against the initial invasions and bombings at the beginning when it mattered. A man with genuinely dovish instincts doesn’t seize on pretexts to order illegal military attacks against a government that hasn’t attacked us. This is what a reflexively militaristic person does, and that is a much better way to describe Trump.
Obama wasn’t necessarily “more dovish,” either, but he was typically more cautious than other politicians. Even so, he accepted almost all of the same assumptions about the U.S. role in the world that “the Blob” did, and for all of his supposed dovishness he started two illegal wars and supported a third in Yemen. As long as direct costs to the U.S. could be kept at a minimum and as long as people saw him as trying to end wars, Obama had no trouble being a war president for the entirety of his two terms. He was “instinctively more dovish” mainly in the sense that he could talk a good game about the perils and pitfalls of military action when it suited him, but in practice he almost never refused to order military action. Both Obama and his opponents cultivated the image of him as being “more dovish” than usual, and that misleading image helped him to normalize illegal and perpetual warfare.
If all of that is right, it is hard to credit that these two ever possessed instincts to keep the U.S. out of unnecessary wars. If they have these instincts, they must be exceptionally weak and fleeting ones. This is why candidates and presidents shouldn’t be judged on their supposed instincts, but only by the policies that they support and the decisions that they make.