“Real” is not the same as “good.”  “Real” means he is finally coming to understand America as a geopolitical entity.

America is not a sports team; it is not a business.  It is not a hero or a villain in some movie.  It is a nation-state.  Its state is vast, made up of millions of individuals who gather to accomplish titanic, slow moving goals.  Its nation is even bigger: hundreds of millions who only see the narrow incentives of their daily lives, piling up into the interests of a superpower.  For the first few months of Trump’s presidency, it has seemed like he did not know that.

Trump came to power pretending a moral purity driven by self-interest: he would drain the swamp of insider elites, prevent conflict with Russia, fight only smart wars.  He would manage the United States with the same ruthless edge as he managed his business empire and produce great prosperity.

In that view, there was no profit in bombing Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.  Not until Wednesday’s chemical attack.

Now, President Trump has begun to accept his role in the American geopolitical entity. Just as so many presidents before him, he struggled against its tide, only to be swept away by events.

The United States seeks to resolve the global security dilemma.  When people talk of world peace, they are talking about the security dilemma. America must do this because only by resolving the global security dilemma can it ever be truly safe. The U.S. prefers to use laws and institutions when it can, as it has through the UN, WTO, NATO, IMF, and others.  But it resorts to hard power when those options fail.

Since the Cold War largely secured Europe (absent Russia), the U.S. has focused on trying to reorder the Middle East.  Repeated presidents have tried to leave the region; repeated presidents are sucked back in after a short time.  The geopolitical reality is that America must try to secure the Arab world: it is too close to Europe, and too resource rich, to ignore.  Even a personality as big as Trump cannot overcome facts.

Trump ignored Syria’s Bashar al-Assad until he used a weapons system that threatened that slow reordering.  (There is, thus far, no convincing evidence it was anyone but the Assad regime, only conspiratorial conjecture).  To normalize the use of chemical weapons in the region would be a direct threat to the United States: it would open a door that could not be readily shut.

Moreover, it was also an opportunity for elites within the state to push Trump to do what they’d wanted for a long time: to attack Assad and to undermine Russia.  To roll back Russian power remains in America’s interest until the European security dilemma is completely resolved.

Trump’s supporters shouted much about how Hillary would drag the U.S. to war in Syria; turns out, the president’s personality matters a lot less than people thought.  If there is criticism to be had, it should aim directly at the nation-state system that has produced the security dilemma.  If China were the superpower, or Brazil, or India, or Russia, or Germany, or anywhere really, would they act so differently?  Very likely not.



4 thoughts on “Trump Is Now A Real American President

  1. This was the right move. However, the cynical part of my brain will not shut up.

    This Syrian civil war was supposed to be over. What did Assad gain from the chemical attack? Was this all a ploy to get Trump a few approval points in his foreign policy column? Where is the Russian response? Was this Putin-approved?

    I am not and will not become a conspiracy theorist. However, this just stinks. I don’t personally like the idea of playing alliances like this. We will need to keep watching to see if Trump scratches Putin’s back now that Putin has scratched his.


    1. It seems – at least for now – that Assad calculated there would be no retaliation. If Obama promised war but gave none, and Trump promised no war at all, wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume the Americans would not strike? Beyond the fact that the bombardment was not a critical blow. I still believe the civil war will be largely over as soon as Raqqa falls, but now America may have a much bigger spot on the table.

      I would apply Occum’s razor to all this – that Assad miscalculated, that Trump felt compelled to strike (even if it served domestic distraction purposes back home), and that this is proof once more that geopolitical systems beat individual personalities on a long enough timeline.


  2. I think you’re giving Trump way too much credit here. I mean, for starters, anyone with any understanding of politics knew that there would be a renewal of war with the Republicans in power. That’s their thing. They beef up the military way past the point of necessity, and they go to war. Next thing you know, a budget is proposed to add even more money to the military it doesn’t need, and we get involved in yet another of the unending series of Middle Eastern military conflagrations.

    But even if it hadn’t been Syria, it would have been somewhere. He even talked about giving the U.S. a second chance to take Iraq’s oil back during the campaign.

    So why Syria after the gas attack? Because Trump doesn’t have much of an attention span. Something happened, so he did something. No waiting, no measured responses, not even any reasoning for why he’s so gung-ho to avenge a bunch of people who he tried to ban from entering the country because he claimed they were all terrorists. Maybe he even realized how bad it looked for him that the refugees he’s been opposing are fleeing stuff like getting gassed. I think it unrealistic to believe he understands the weight of the power and America’s true place as some international actor.


    1. I wouldn’t mean to presume that Trump suddenly fully understands his role: just that he’s conforming to it. You don’t always have to fully know what you’re doing in order to be part of a system.


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