The chemical bombing of Khan Sheikhoun in Syria was a golden opportunity for Trump’s administration to convey three messages.
The first message is an internal one: the US president was like a bad machine—talks much, does little. He only fulfilled a small part of his internal agenda. What he did was so little that some said he is following the footsteps of another US president, Herbert Hoover, known for his great speeches and hesitant acts.
This was an opportunity for Trump to tell the world he is a man of decisions and that his ability to steal the show does not mean he cannot make decisive decisions.
Trump’s approval rates were falling back, reaching as low as 35%. There is nothing better than foreign adventures to appeal to human feelings. This was the popular reading in America after the flood of photos and videos showing the impact on Khan Sheikhoun. This, along with national interests, is the key to gather hesitant citizens and frustrated Americans behind their national institutions and their president.
I expect his approval rates to go up in the coming few days.
The second message is to Russia: Trump’s administration is telling Vladimir Putin that America is there and that Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” during the election campaign would make the country impose its presence.
If Obama was hesitant after the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan that he inherited from George W. Bush—as well as the situations in Syria, Libya, and Yemen, in which he seemed clueless—Trump will not follow suit, but would rather use its strong army and effective political will.
Yet, Trump’s administration does not want to make the strike a prelude to a diplomatic or military confrontation with Russia. Hence, the US state department explained that this strike is not part of an extended confrontation.
The third message is to US’s allies: Washington’s allies considered Trump’s tenure to be the return to the principle of the Monroe Doctrine, which is based on America’s isolation and in its self-sufficiency. This divided the US allies into two teams.
Some allies fear this idea, as it means that Washington will tone down its role in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which is the core of Europe’s security. This would also mean that they will have to face the liberal world order and its democratic impact on politics and capitalist effects on the economy.
For instance, all German politicians, including Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel, believe Trump’s move deviated from the traditional American moves that made the world less fascist with less communism. Merkel did not hide her support for Hillary Clinton, or any other candidate but Trump, out of fear of his personal orientations that do not fit within any known ideological format. However, she might now do the same thing Winston Churchill did when he “danced with joy” after learning that Germany sank a US warship in 1944, which brought the US into the war against Germany, thus saving England from an unbalanced confrontation with the Nazi army [Editor’s note: the US entered World War 2 in 1941 after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor]. Now the US is entering a state of military chaos. The country will be required to make clear stands on the issues that a divided Europe cannot bear alone. Merkel and many European politicians will dance. Those politicians were fearful the strategic vacuum that would have been left by America would put everything in the hands of Russia.
This is why Europe, Japan, Australia, Turkey, and the Gulf States all supported the US strike—though vigilantly—as it gave them hope that disposing Bashar al-Assad is still on the White House agenda.
On the other hand, many right-wing politicians welcomed US isolation under Trump. They were caught by surprise when the strike took place. For instance, the French president supported the strike but stressed that it must be within the framework of the United Nations—hence, supporting the strike, but condemning it at the same time. Right-wing candidate Marie Le Pen was one of Trump’s isolation-slogan fans, but she was hesitant commenting on the US strike. “It would have been no problem if we waited to see the results of investigations first,” she said.
Fourth message: What benefit is there for us, the Arabs?
Nothing! We went in different directions when we took different stands. The fate of Syria is yet to be determined by the decisions that will be taken away from the will of its people, and in non-Arab capitals.