Focus for a moment not on Syria’s President Bashir al-Assad but on communist China’s President Xi Jin-ping.
Mr. Xi and his wife were the ones sitting across from President Trump and his wife at what amounted to a formal state dinner at Mr. Trump’s sumptuous digs in Palm Beach when the tomahawk missile news broke.
In any culture surely but especially in the famously rigid Chinese culture, this was the time to focus on the distinguished guest, rather than to spring a military action 6,000 miles away. It hasn’t been reported whether the Chinese president choked on his food or broke his water glass with his teeth when his host held a sudden, unannounced news conference, on the spot, to confirm the U.S. missile strike.
The Trump message could not conceivably have been lost on Mr. Xi:
My dear distinguished Chinese guest, sorry to take the spotlight from you but this missile attack against Syria is as much about your failure to reign in North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong-un. He has shown remarkable dedication to developing, with the help of your state-run businesses and of Iran’s nuclear program, a warhead and delivery system that may soon be capable of reaching and destroying U.S. cities.
Mr. Xi, a smart, well-educated man, surely knew the surprise attack on a Syrian airbase was the first time in history, probably, and in memory certainly, that any U.S. president carried out surprise military attack against a foreign country while hosting the leader of another foreign country. Let alone the leader of a foreign country with the world’s biggest military and second wealthiest economy.
Mr. Trump already had in effect told Russia’s President Vladimir Putin that he’s backing the wrong guy in helping Mr. Assad ruthlessly kill civilians to stay in power.
Mr. Trump was saying Thursday in effect, If you, Mr. Xi, aren’t going to get Kim Jong-un to dismantle his nuclear program, the United States is ready to go it alone against North Korea.
Some conservatives were hugely disappointed in the Trump action. They interpreted it as the “New York Democrats” faction in the White House having turned him into an establishment lover — an interventionist out to democratize the world with the rockets and bombs so beloved by what President Eisnenhower called the “military-industrial complex.”
An Assad retaliation will inevitably lead to a U.S. escalation – with the eU.S. wining up in yet another politically unwinnable war (killing the designated enemy is never a problem for the U.S. military; the need for permanent occupation afterward to preserve the peace is always the problem).
It’s more plausible, in any case, that the America-first proclaiming president was jabbing a finger in the direction of China, North Korea, Russia and Iran and sayimg: Listen up. The age of the U.S. turning the other cheek to aggression is over.
That can and perhaps should be seen as a nationalistic message, not a neoconservative, globalist statement of intent to turn those four countries into democracies.
That would be Trump the president staying true to Trump the candidate.