Donald Trump has said all manner of contradictory things about Syria and unilateral airstrikes. He said Obama shouldn’t attack in 2013 and insisted he needed congressional authorization to do so. Now he is contradicting both points. But whether or not Trump is hypocritical is not a terribly important point at the moment. Whether he’s changed his position isn’t that important. But the rapidity and totality with which he’s done so is important. There are compelling arguments on both sides of the intervention question. But impulsive, reactive, unconsidered actions seldom generate happy results.
Another way to put this is that while I agree it’s silly for the now to focus on calling Trump a hypocrite, the man’s mercurial and inconstant nature makes his manner of coming to the decision as important as the decision itself. That tells us whether he’ll have the same worldview tomorrow, whether this is part of any larger plan. There are arguments for intervention and restraint. But given what we know of Trump, it is highly uncertain that this is part of either approach. It may simply be blowing some stuff up.
If this action is meant to draw a line saying that the US will exact a price for any use of chemical weapons it may be effective and even worthwhile. But we are already hearing what sounds like a commitment to regime change – in the face of realities that make that ambition seem rather far-fetched. As I said, particularly because Trump is so mercurial, so changing from one moment to the next, there’s a very good chance this isn’t really ‘about’ anything, not a part of any strategy or real goal. It may just be blowing stuff up.
For the reasons I’ve explained, I believe that with Trump, perhaps uniquely, process is as important as how we might evaluate the competing policies in the abstract.