By Mitchell Blatt*
In the aftermath of the U.S. strike on a Syrian airstrip, the world is left to consider what this means for U.S. foreign policy under the Trump administration.
While many, including myself, have been disconcerted by the prospect of American intervention in Syria, the outcome so far of Trump’s foreign policy can also be seen as reassuring compared to the extreme foreign policy vision of withdrawing from NATO, letting nuclear weapons proliferate in Asia, and committing war crimes and stealing oil he promised on the campaign trail.
Jeet Heer of the New Republic summarizes what apparently happened: The Generals won their war with Trump. Many said they hoped James Mattis would be a voice of rationality for the administration, as opposed to Michael Flynn and Steve Bannon. Now both of them are gone from the National Security Council, and H.R. McMasters has joined as well.
The problem, however, could be that men of uniform are generally more likely to rely on military solutions for almost any problem, especially in an administration where the State Department is understaffed and facing a proposed 30% budget cut.
Further cause for concern: That Trump would be able to so quickly change course from a clearly articulated policy of non-intervention–and specifically expressed many, many times not to intervene whatsoever in Syria against Assad (although he was welcoming possible intervention there against ISIS)–to the policy choice he took, shows that he must be easily manipulated: by generals, by public opinion, by media coverage. In a real crisis where minutes matter, can the U.S. rely on a leader to be guided by others? Over the course of his presidency, can he stick to a consistent grand strategy that advances broad goals?
A final point: There don’t have to be “two” choices, either way. It is not a choice between either supporting Russia’s efforts to bomb ISIS or overthrowing Assad. The U.S. could also stay out. The choice in Korea isn’t between striking the North and pulling out troops. It has often seemed, however, that Trump views many choices as simplistic dualities–Obama was “weak and indecisive” and he’s “strong” for striking Syria, etc. The mass media doesn’t always help, either, in its coverage of foreign policy.
*Mitchell Blatt has been based in China and Korea since 2012. A writer and journalist, he is the lead author of Panda Guides Hong Kong guidebook and has contributed to outlets including The National Interest, National Review Online, Acculturated, and Vagabond Journey. Fluent in Chinese, he has lived and traveled in Asia for three years, blogging about his travels at ChinaTravelWriter.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @MitchBlatt.