During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump claimed to have opposed the Iraq war, wanted better relations with Russia, and even briefly put his hand on the hot stove of the Arab-Israeli conflict, calling himself “neutral” on Palestine.
On the other hand, he called for “rebuilding” the US armed forces, which hardly need it (they’re already the most expensive and bloated war machine on the planet). And he yanked his hand off the stove when he got his fingers burnt, turning 180 degrees to announce that he’d be “the most pro-Israel president ever,” when he decided that’s what it took to win the election.
Clearly candidate Trump was a mixed bag on foreign policy, but he was marginally better than most of his opponents. Some antiwar activists took heart at the possibility that he might, as president, cut back on US military adventurism.
No such luck.
The first major post-inauguration evidence that Trump is just a typical political con man came in February with a raid in Yemen resulting in the murder of an 8-year-old American girl and dozens of other civilians by US Navy Seals (one of whom also died). The raid was planned under and approved by then-president Barack Obama prior to Trump’s inauguration, but instead of condemning the action he defended it. He invited the widow of the fallen SEAL, but not the surviving members of young Nawar Anwar al-Awlaki’s family, to attend his speech before Congress.
Now he’s deployed 400 artillery and infantry troops from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit and 100 US Army Rangers to Syria, effectively doubling the number of US military boots on the ground there.
Mainstream American media outlets seem to consider it novel, perhaps even controversial, that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad refers to the US troops as “invaders.” I’m not sure why. Sending troops into a country against the will of its government is, by definition, an invasion.
Apart from a few bitter-enders still trying and failing to get the words “I was wrong” out of their mouths like Fonzie in Happy Days, antiwar Trump supporters seem to understand that they got played.
Perhaps Trump will change course yet again and start pulling American troops out of the Middle East when (not if) things blow up in his face, as Ronald Reagan did after the 1983 Beirut Marine barracks bombing. But I wouldn’t bet on it. His temperament and, so far, his actions scream “war president.”
Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.
Also published on Medium.