Pres­i­dent’s words haunt, as the dogs of war are howl­ing

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - OPINION - Kath­leen Parker Kath­leen Parker

As sabers rat­tle ever louder across fields, plains, oceans and deserts, Pres­i­dent Trump’s words from ear­lier this year haunt the sta­ble mind:

“I would love to be able to bring back our coun­try into a great form of unity,” he said.

“Without a ma­jor event where people pull to­gether, that’s hard to do. But I would like to do it without that ma­jor event be­cause usu­ally that ma­jor event is not a good thing.” So true, Mr. Pres­i­dent, so true. Trump made these re­marks to a gath­er­ing of tele­vi­sion an­chors a few hours be­fore his first State of the Union ad­dress in Jan­uary.

Lament­ing the coun­try’s di­vi­sive­ness, hear­ken­ing back to Bill Clin­ton’s im­peach­ment, he noted that Amer­i­cans usu­ally unite dur­ing trou­bled times. A com­mon en­emy is help­ful.

What could be more uni­fy­ing than World War III?

As the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil called an emer­gency meet­ing Fri­day to dis­cuss Syria, much of Wash­ing­ton was riv­eted on ex­cerpts from pre-pub­li­ca­tion copies of James Comey’s new book, “A Higher Loy­alty,” in which the former FBI di­rec­tor, whom Trump fired, gives his ver­sion of events lead­ing up to the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and his pink slip.

Then came Satur­day. The United States, act­ing in con­cert with Bri­tain and France, fired cruise mis­siles at three sites linked to Syria’s chem­i­cal weapons pro­gram.

Rus­sia had ear­lier promised to coun­ter­at­tack Amer­i­can in­ter­ests should the United States at­tack Syria in re­sponse to the As­sad regime’s re­ported chem­i­cal at­tack April 7 in Douma, which was said to have killed dozens of civil­ians, in­clud­ing chil­dren, but there was no im­me­di­ate in­di­ca­tion of es­ca­la­tion, at least.

Rus­sia im­plau­si­bly in­sists the chem­i­cal at­tack was staged by Bri­tain. No one re­ally thinks that, though, and Trump ad­vis­ers ar­gued that now was the time to act defini­tively and dust off our shock-and-awe man­ual.

On Fri­day, Nikki Ha­ley, the U.S. am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions, laid the blame at Rus­sia’s feet. “It is Rus­sia alone that agreed to be the guar­an­tor of the re­moval of all chem­i­cal weapons in Syria,” she said.

This re­mark was per­haps also in­tended as a di­rect strike against Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, who, in­stead of en­forc­ing his own red line on As­sad’s use of chem­i­cal weapons, agreed to an ar­range­ment with Rus­sia guar­an­tee­ing elim­i­na­tion of As­sad’s chem­i­cal ar­se­nal.

In 2013, Civil­ian Trump was apoplec­ti­cally UPPERCASE TWEET­ING his dis­ap­proval of Obama’s weak­ness in the same po­si­tion he finds him­self now. Later, Can­di­date Trump painted him­self as more iso­la­tion­ist than a cru­sader ready to wage war to pro­tect the 1997 Chem­i­cal Weapons Con­ven­tion out­law­ing the use of chem­i­cal weapons.

Un­less, that is, a blis­ter­ing act of in­ter­na­tional chivalry might ben­e­fit him per­son­ally.

One prays this wouldn’t be the case, but there’s lit­tle in the pres­i­dent’s his­tory to sug­gest a higher loy­alty. Bi­og­ra­pher Jon Meacham re­cently said that although Trump speaks ide­o­log­i­cally, his only true ide­ol­ogy is of him­self.

There may be ev­ery rea­son to be­gin prepa­ra­tions for a fi­nale, but this takes time due to: coali­tion build­ing, po­si­tion­ing air and naval as­sets, draft­ing al­lies in the Arab world and, one hopes, avert­ing war with Rus­sia.

Un­easily, we re­call Iraq — and the day af­ter.

We can dec­i­mate Syria, but then what?

Who fills the void? The Is­lamic State, Iran, Hezbol­lah, Rus­sia? Is Putin bluff­ing about es­ca­la­tion? If we’re “suc­cess­ful,” would we be ini­ti­at­ing yet another long-term oc­cu­pa­tion in the Mid­dle East?

Un­less Trump and Putin are play­ing a blind man’s bluff, rest­ful sleep eludes a world in which the U.S. com­man­der-in-chief — obe­di­ent only to an ide­ol­ogy of self — be­lieves that it would take a “ma­jor event” to bring Amer­ica back to­gether.

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