Trump’s tomahawk missile strike in Syria has most commentators agreeing that it’s an international game changer, sending a message to bad actors from the Middle East to North Korea: there’s “a new sheriff in town” and the American superpower is back. What is missing from these analyses is a recognition of the strike’s repercussions domestically. For the Syrian strike is also a game changer for President Trump, who until now has been the target of unprecedented and unhinged political attacks.
The Syrian strike blows up the central myth of the Democrats’ resistance to the Trump presidency. This is the accusation that America’s new commander-in-chief is a pawn in Putin’s pocket, a closet colluder with the Russian beast. The accusation always had a lunatic ring but since it was based on speculation about what Trump might do, it was difficult to definitively refute. Not anymore. The strike in Syria has blown it as sky high as the debris from the Syrian aircraft the tomahawks destroyed. Henceforth, Trump’s critics are more likely to warn of an imminent war with Russia than an imminent capitulation to Putin’s whims.
Trump’s surgical strike against Syria’s chemical weapons base has also had the effect of moving Trump towards the center of American politics. It has received praise from such unlikely Democrats as Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, vitriolic leaders of the anti-Trump demolition squad. In Schumer’s words, “Making sure Assad knows that when he commits such despicable atrocities he will pay a price is the right thing to do.” Even leftwing Congressional Progressive Caucus member Louise Slaughter agreed that Trump’s strike was “a proportionate response to Assad’s barbaric use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians.”
Testimonies like this shred the slander that Trump is out of the mainstream, a fringe figure dangerously unpredictable; an irresponsible, incompetent clown, impervious to expert counsel and advice. Instead a broad consensus has formed that Trump did exactly what Obama failed to do when Bashar al-Assad crossed the red line Obama had drawn against the use of chemical weapons. In designing his own response, Trump conspicuously heeded the counsel of his military advisers and national security team, arriving at a plan that achieved the mission without going a bridge too far. His measured but firm response provided a stark contrast to the feckless leadership of Obama, who was notorious in resisting the advice provided by his joint chiefs of staff during his eight years as commander-in-chief. While the Syrian strike put America back on the map as a great military power, its longer-term impact was to undermine the Democrats’ ultimate canard that Trump is “unfit” for the office. It will be a daunting challenge to persuade any reasonable minded person of that malevolent charge again.
Until now Trump’s formidable successes – re-energizing the economy, fueling a stock market boom, bringing back factories and jobs, dramatically reducing illegal border crossings, getting his originalist nominee confirmed to the Court – have been obscured by the blizzard of malicious accusations under which Democrats have attempted to bury his presidency. But in the days ahead, the respect for Trump’s action will be his armor against such slanders, dramatically diminishing their credibility and power. As a result, the president will be judged by more and more Americans on the basis of what he actually does rather than the paranoid fantasies that have hitherto been staples of the Never Trumpers, left and right.