There’s a misconception that Donald Trump reversed course when he ordered a missile attack on the Syrian airbase from which Assad’s chemical attack was launched. In reality, Trump remained on the same course he’s been on since the earliest days of his candidacy.
Yes, he ran as an anti-globalist who repeatedly called for the US to stay out of the Syrian conflict. And yes, just days ago his administration made it quite clear that removing Assad was no longer America’s policy. But these policy positions are not what drives Donald Trump. He answers to a higher calling, and in terms of that calling, his decision to order the attack on the Syrian airbase was entirely consistent.
Trump’s ultimate motivation is to do the opposite of Obama. And he never veers from the course.
In 2013, Assad launched a chemical attack. Obama did not answer with a direct military response. In 2017, Assad launched a chemical attack. Trump did what he always does. The opposite of Obama. As Politico’s Susan Glaser explains: “When faced with a choice, the best way to understand what Trump will do is to expect he will opt to differentiate himself as much as possible from his predecessor.”
Obama first days in office were spent attempting to heal a growing rift with Muslim countries. Trump’s were spent on a bizarre and wildly unnecessary Muslim ban. Obama got healthcare passed. Trump put all his political capital on the line in an effort to repeal it. Of course he didn’t have a reasonable alternative ready to replace Obamacare. It’s not the new policy he cares about. It’s all about undoing the old one. It’s about being the unObama.
Obama had a particulary bad relationship with Netanyahu. Obama did not get along at all with Putin. Trump reached out to both of those leaders with extreme vigor.
Trump’s executive order binge represents his signature (and arguably, only) achievements during his first eleven weeks in office. And each of those orders had one, and only one, ideological commonality. They undid what Obama did.
Obama was America’s first black president. Trump picked Jeff Sessions to be his attorney general. Seeing the trend?
It’s not about destroying the environment, denying science, being anti-choice, or wanting fewer people to have healthcare. It’s an obsession with being the opposite of Obama.
Think about it. The guy is against clean air and water and for coal. Even coal people aren’t as pumped about coal as Trump.
In one of his administration’s sickest international displays (and that’s saying something), Trump’s initial response to Syria’s chemical attack was to blame Obama and to describe the incident as a “consequence of the past administration’s weakness and irresolution.” Even in his brief remarks announcing his Syrian strike, Trump couldn’t resist contrasting himself with his predecessor. “Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed and failed very dramatically.”
We’ll see if putting a few dents in a largely abandoned airfield changes Assad’s behavior. I hope it does. But one thing I’m sure of is that it won’t change Trump’s. The world’s most unpredictable leader will maintain one area of total predictability. He’ll try to be the opposite of Obama.
And sadly for America, thus far he’s been able to achieve that goal.