That was very post-modern, on the part of Trumpf. I call such operations, “experimental bombing.” Choose a bad country in no position to retaliate (Serbia, Taliban Afghanistan, Libya, …) that has got itself unpleasantly into the news, and wing in a few dozen Tomahawks. Though I must say aeroplane strikes are more photogenic. Then see what happens. Perhaps the subject’s behaviour will improve. I suspect surgeons sometimes try this with difficult patients. Bask in praise for your decisiveness, for a few days. You may decide whether to have a war later.
It all starts with emotional pictures, from one of the world’s many “hot spots.” The media rule our minds, including Trumpf’s, judging from his Twitter account. We may like or hate them, trust them or not, but they do have the power to set our agenda.
There have been plenty of horrific pictures from Syria over the last decade or so: ghastly unspeakable crimes committed either by the Assad regime, or by its opponents. The “sarin attacks” on Khan Sheikhoun were exceptionally effective, as media drama. Even those encouraging partial-birth abortion, wince at the sight of babies being slaughtered in gas attacks.
There was a “90 percent chance” it was indeed sarin, and a “90 percent chance” it was Assad’s, and a “90 percent chance” there were no Russians in the way at the Shayrat air base, when it was selected for demolition. Factor a 90 percent chance something technical or unforeseeable does not go badly wrong. This works out to about two chances in three the bombing experiment ends well; three in four it will not end that badly; four in five you won’t hit something you will wish you never touched. Time will tell what time tells in the longer run; usually nothing.
Now, the strike wasn’t only about Syria. It contained “messaging” for Assad, Hezbollah, Iran, Putin, North Korea, and the Chinese gentleman with whom Trumpf was dining at Mar-a-Lago last evening. Ah yes, and the congressional Democrats. All are expected to understand that “America is back” as an active player on the world stage. No more of this Obamanoid shirking. For this purpose, it was rather an eloquent gesture, to remind that messing with America makes a foolish hobby.
Too, it was an organizing measure, showing a formidable corporate skill. The rulers of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia had been through the White House lately; all these Sunni powers are at the point of realizing, with the clarity of the late Anwar Sadat, that Israel is not their real enemy. (“Sunni days” would be the operative Canadian pun.) Too, the Gulf states are certainly onside. We have suddenly a tenable Trumpf coalition of the more-than-willing to return us to the good old days of American superpower prestige in the region, and forward in the rivalry with ayatollaholic Iran.
Speed is its own signal. Surprise counts for more than tactical advantage in military affairs. On the strategic level, it informs your enemies that they may not have time for a correction, should they put a foot wrong. The prospect of a hanging at dawn tomorrow is more effective than the prospect of a possible hanging after a lengthy appeals process.
I don’t have an opinion on what happened yesterday, incidentally. But I did notice it.