After news of Syrian intervention hit the airwaves last week, the neoconservatives who fought tooth and nail to deny Donald Trump the GOP nomination came out in full force to congratulate him for coming to his senses. Bill Kristol, the New York Times alumnus and Weekly Standard founder who tried and failed to mount an obscure National Review writer as a third-party challenge to Trump, seems every bit as excited at the prospect of regime change in Syria as he was about Iraq. “If Pres. Trump takes appropriate action against Assad this #NeverTrumper will of course support him. He's the president, not merely ‘Trump,’” Kristol tweeted. Thomas Friedman, the New York Times’ foreign taxi-cab correspondent, had this to say: “The least bad solution is a partition of Syria and the creation of a primarily Sunni protected area — protected by an international force, including, if necessary, some U.S. troops.” Sage advice from a man who incorrectly predicted that the Iraq War would last only another six months 14 separate times. None of this should be surprising; there are few real, ideological differences between Trump and the Bush-era neocons who opposed him so theatrically. They considered him unserious and unpresidential during the campaign, but George W. Bush was only marginally more refined. The difference was that Bush’s wars elevated him, in the warhawk imagination, from a bumbling faux-cowboy to a 21st-century Churchill. The same is happening with Trump.
Even liberal media so lauded for its opposition to Trump was in awe of him after the attacks, despite the fact that Obama was bombing Syria for a good portion of his presidency. The New York Times editorial board wrote that it was “hard not to feel some sense of emotional satisfaction” when the missiles landed. CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, who said Trump “spent his whole life bullshitting” on-air two weeks ago, said that the president truly “became President last night” in an echo of Van Jones’ earlier outburst of admiration for February’s disastrous raid in Yemen. Teen Vogue, the sponsored-content hub that collected undeserved accolades from liberals earlier this year for running a middling anti-Trump essay and aggregating Politico articles, is also in favor of regime change. Their reaction to the chemical attacks was to publish a piece calling for “immediate action” by the U.S., a move that, minus a few sentences about refugees, brings them in alignment with the new post-Bannon White House. Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald took a break from suing internet trolls to voice his approval. “It’s terrible Trump’s ‘I don’t care about Assad’ set Syrian dictator free to kill. But measure response shows Trump being advised well now,” he tweeted. Peter Daou, a former Clinton campaign staffer who is so slavishly devoted to Hillary that her own director of communications called him “a little off,” is now ready to line up behind Trump. “I'm a Dem and I oppose @realDonaldTrump's policies, but I will fully support appropriate retaliation against #Assad's war crimes in #Syria,” he tweeted, apparently not realizing that retaliation against Assad’s war crimes is one of Trump’s policies. New York magazine’s Andrew Sullivan, who routinely criticized Trump during the election, criticized him again — this time, for not being aggressive enough.
There are few real, ideological differences between Trump and the Bush-era neocons who opposed him so theatrically.
More troubling than the predictable transformation of #NeverTrumpers into #WeLoveTrumpers is the complete deference to the president’s foreign policy plans by liberal politicians who were, days earlier, calling for his impeachment. Before Trump started bombing Syria last week, hysteria over Russia had reached such a fever pitch that some Democrats were half-expecting to see the president led from the White House in handcuffs. It seems that all it took to erase this fantasy from the Democratic hivemind was a few dozen cruise missiles and the promise of a future windfall for defense contractors. Congress immediately united to form a bipartisan consensus on bombing Syria. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the ostensible leader of “the resistance,” is unsurprisingly pro-intervention — a direct war with Assad brings him one step closer to his dream of regime change in Iran. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the attack a “proportional response” to Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons, which is both incorrect and irrelevant — the question was never whether the Assad regime deserves to be attacked in a karmic sense, but whether U.S. involvement would exacerbate existing tensions and increase the overall death toll as it did in Iraq and Libya.
Of course, Hillary Clinton is pro-intervention as well. She couches her opinion in Deep State lingo — it’s all no-fly zones and attacks specifically on the Syrian Air Force, both of which would require significant numbers of ground troops — but she remains the same warhawk she was in 2001, 2003, and 2011. She came out of the woods last week to throw her weight behind Trump’s policy of Syrian intervention, saying “I really believe that we should have and still should take out [Assad’s] air fields and prevent him from being able to use them to bomb innocent people and drop sarin gas on them.” Naturally, she failed to mention that the civilian casualties of the recent U.S.-led airstrikes in Mosul dwarf those of the latest attack from Assad. This ideological confluence with the right, far more than her continued scapegoating of Wikileaks, reminds us why she lost the election and further vindicates her critics on the left. If history is any guide, we can expect her to acknowledge this spectacular failure of judgement no sooner than the year 2027.
Of course, Hillary Clinton is pro-intervention as well.
The real issue with the fawning over War Trump is not the disgusting hypocrisy and fetish for overseas violence, but the message it sends to Trump himself, an insecure, half-senile cable news addict who ignores intelligence briefings in favor of TV roundtables. When the CNN talking heads who spent the last year trashing him suddenly jump to his side, the reward center of his rapidly decaying brain lights up. Trump, for all his anti-elite, anti-mainstream-media posturing, is a man who secretly craves acceptance from the figures he claims to hate, and that acceptance was just handed to him on a silver platter. The lesson, for him, is simple: bomb Syria, receive unqualified praise.
Take a deep breath. Stop reading pro-intervention press releases for a moment, stop looking at pictures of crying children — I know, pathos is addictive — and try to use the past to contextualize the present. Remember what happened the last time the U.S. overthrew a dictator, and the time before that, and the time before that. Now, think about the future. Think about what support for regime change, and regime change amidst unprecedented sectarian chaos, will look like in a year. In five years. In ten years. If nothing else, your future reputation is on the line.
Alex Nichols is the social media editor at Current Affairs.