Donald Trump as War President?

Dutch historian Ian Buruma has written a must-read column for Project Syndicate. His main point is that war is a way for political leaders to become popular.

Here are four paragraphs from the essay, which is ungated. Take time to read the full column, if you haven’t already done so, by clicking on the link below.

[S]eemingly on the spur of the moment, Trump ordered an attack by 59 Tomahawk missiles on a Syrian air base. After years of horrendous bombings and torture by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, after adamantly refusing to allow Syrians to escape the carnage by coming to the US as refugees, and after making clear only last week that the US would do nothing to topple Assad, Trump saw pictures of children foaming at the mouth after another chemical gas attack, and changed his mind. ….

People may have grown sick of the wars unleashed by George W. Bush, but the reaction to Trump’s Tomahawks even in the august New York Times has made one thing clear: when the commander-in-chief confronts an enemy abroad, people will support him, as though it were their patriotic duty. And if bombing an air base is a mark of moral leadership, questioning it is not just unpatriotic, but also immoral, as though one does not wish to do something about those poor children subjected to Assad’s poison gas.

Even if Trump’s Tomahawks won’t solve the conflicts in the Middle East, and even if they actually make matters worse, he has achieved an important victory at home. In the eyes of many critics, he now looks presidential. And he may have repaired, if only temporarily, a serious rift among the Republicans. ….

Trump still has no strategy, not in the Middle East, and not in Asia, where North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-un, is doing his best to grab the news and provoke Trump by testing nuclear devices and long-range missiles. But Trump now knows what to do to be admired as a great leader. …. An attack on North Korea, unlike a runway in Syria, could actually lead to nuclear war. But Trump’s moral dimension has been restored. It will be beautiful.

Ian Buruma, “Trump the War President?“, Project Syndicate, 11 April 2017.

The column is available in translation from the original English to Spanish, German, French and four other languages. Mr Buruma (born 1951) is Professor of Human Rights and Journalism at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.

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