I awoke to a question from a friend back home:
Can you explain to me why Russia is after our navy now after the attacks on Syria. I thought Trump and Putin were buddies.
– Old High School friend
“Aw for fucks sake, what now.” I said to myself as I flipped over to Reddit to see what was going on. (btw, usually the Megathreads on big events on Reddit will have dozens of links to different sources as things unfold, it is quite good actually to get a wide range of sources)
After spending an hour catching up and reading, I went out, had a walk, came back to fed and walk the dog, had a shower, and throughout that time, I was thinking how to explain the situation.
The bottom line, no one knows what he is doing, or what ends he is pursuing. And that is quite scary.
So, from what I have gathered, Mr. Trump initiated and executed a military operation in the last 72 hours. Once the Chemical Weapons were used in Syria, it was a prime opportunity to create a point of differentiation from Mr. Obama. In 2013, Syria attacked the city of Ghouta, which led to a call to action in several countries. The US debated escalating their presence in the war, but Congress had to approve the measure, and there was fierce opposition. In Fact, Mr. Trump himself tweeted several times his opposition to escalation in Syria. In the end the vote was pulled, and Mr. Obama said he likely did not have the votes in Congress to escalate. What ended up happening was the US and Russia made an agreement with Syria to destroy all Chemical weapons in the country. (which is now obviously in violation of).
The Chemical Attack this week gave Mr. Trump the perfect opportunity to do define his administration in contrast to Mr. Obama, and succeed. He went with the plan to destroy the Air Force capability in the region by attacking the airbase. I ultimately believe that this is his intention: to be decisive where Obama wasn’t. To him, it would give him a political win, people would hated Obama will love this, Unite the GOP behind him, and his administration will get back on track, despite the rumors of massive infighting this week. It is eerily reminiscent of the “Wag the Dog” move the Clinton Administration did with the Al-Shifa Pharmaceutical company and the Lewinsky scandal.
In terms of Trump and Putin, and their closeness. I think it is complicated. I don’t think that they are “friends,” I think they both know that each will throw the other under the bus to save their own ass, and publicly, I think that is a little of what we are seeing. Further, I think Mr. Trump is a loose cannon, and this is the first time Putin is seeing the cannon pointed towards him.
So far, the “public” words and moves made by Russia are very… cosmetic. The shifting of a single Frigate towards are ships is a token move of aggression. Putin, who is an ally of Assad, has to make good on that alliance. The condemnation? Standard, and doesn’t add anything too much out of the ordinary. However, Russia was informed of the air strikes prior to them happening. Ambassadors have not been withdrawn… though even if they were, that is still not too serious. Both Putin and Trump are saying the right things publicly to appease their allies and their people. Putin is facing sustained anti-corruption protests at home, and a persistently low oil prices that keeps his country economically stunted. (Btw, Oil is up 3% since the air strikes) this helps him as much as Trump hopes it helps him. Its theater for now.
With word now that the Trump Administration has no immediate follow-up to the action, a lot of people are wondering, “whats next?” The US is awaiting any response from Syria at this point. If the US escalates further, then I would start being concerned (as would Putin I suspect), but for now, we will see the media circus on this suck up the air, and behind the scenes things will stay functionally the same.
Last thought. A lot of his populist flank is furious with him, meltdowns on The_Donald, and other bastions of evangelical Trump Support are common with banning and purges taking place. The President changed his complete policy on foreign intervention within 6 days. Some may suffer from whiplash as a result.
Update: The Hill reports that Syrian Jets carried out additional airstrikes from the same airbase only hours after the airstrike. So the Air Base is not even out of commission.