The Wrong Problem

Despite the fact that a Syrian airbase was targeted by US cruise missiles it is Russia and Iran that are squarely in the crosshairs of the administration. One hint is who's cheering and who's jeering. ABC news says "Netanyahu welcomes US attack on Syria base". Al Jazeera reports that "Saudi Arabia said it 'fully supports' the strikes, adding that it was a 'courageous decision' by Trump in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians in Khan Sheikhoun." Iran, by contrast, "said it strongly condemned the missile strikes against the Syrian army's Shayrat air base." Hezbollah was beside itself with anger. Russia strongly condemned "the illegitimate actions by the US" and warned of "extremely serious" consequences.

Suddenly it seems clear that the administration is trying to reduce Russia's influence in the region and Israel is determined never to have Iranian proxies established in southern Syria. The Sunnis now realize that there is an alternative protector to the Jihad: America.  That was was the political basis of the Surge.

One of the targets demolished by the cruise missiles was the talking point that Trump was Putin's slave. In what must be one of the most astounding turnabouts in journalistic history, the New York Times warned that the Syria strike puts the U.S. relationship with Russia at risk. Suddenly Governor Romney, so recently rehabilitated, is wrong again. He's joined there by Hillary Clinton whose exhortation to bomb Syrian airfields is reprised by Reuters, though doubtless she will be allowed to exit via the back door.

Whether intentionally or not, Donald Trump has managed to strategically surprise both Vladimir Putin and most US punditry.  Suddenly all the problems the commentators worried about turned out to be the wrong ones. Gone is the orange-gutan caricature replaced overnight by a figure at once more mysterious yet also more formidable than the fantasy figure purveyed by the media. Everyone is now scrambling to understand who Trump really is, the one who appeared suddenly in a cloud of smoke. They are hindered by their own talking points. The media was its own worst enemy.

The strike on Syria kicked over a whole anthill of self-deception. The Washington Times noted that "Syria produced a 'ridiculously huge amount' of deadly sarin gas," according to an internal Defense Department memo. "That stockpile, which Obama aides declared was reduced to zero by summer 2014, is back in the news." David Nakamura of the Washington Post tweeted H.R. McMaster's assurance that the Navy's missiles very carefully avoided the tanks of sarin gas to avoid collateral damage. This could only be possible if the US knew the location of all the poison the previous administration had already destroyed. In belated acknowledgement of what must now be obvious, the "fact-checking website PolitiFact on Wednesday retracted a 2014 article that found it 'Mostly True' the Obama administration helped broker a deal that successfully removed '100 percent' of chemical weapons from Syria."