Commander-in-Chief is “presidential” only when he’s dropping bombs.


President Trump receives briefing on military strike on Syria from his National Security team, including a video teleconference with Secretary of Defense, Gen. James Mattis, April 6, 2017, in a secured location at Mar-a-Lago in West Palm Beach, Florida. Credit: WhiteHouse.gov

By Ted Galen Carpenter
September 27, 2017
The American Conservative

President Trump receives briefing on military strike on Syria from his National Security team, including a video teleconference with Secretary of Defense, Gen. James Mattis, April 6, 2017, in a secured location at Mar-a-Lago in West Palm Beach, Florida. Credit: WhiteHouse.gov

It is no secret that Democratic Party leaders and their ideological allies in the media loathe Donald Trump, some even stating explicitly that he is “unfit” to be president. Allegations include that he is a racist who excuses the behavior of white nationalists, that he harbors dictatorial impulses, and that he and his campaign organization collaborated with the Russian government to steal the 2016 presidential election. Progressives have almost nothing good to say about the man or his policies—with one very big exception. When he embraces the kind of military interventions that typified previous administrations, even outspoken figures on the left tend to mute their hostility and praise Trump for being “presidential.” That belligerent foreign-policy initiatives are the one thing that warms liberal hearts says volumes about the sorry state of the current political left regarding issues of war and peace.

Progressives were especially enthusiastic about two Trump administration actions: the cruise-missile strikes against Syria in response to the Assad regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons, and the president’s decision to continue and intensify the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan. Some of the compliments admittedly had a backhanded quality about them. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof stated that “President Trump’s attack on Syria was of “dubious legality,” as well as being both “hypocritical” and “impulsive.” Nevertheless, he concluded that Trump “was right” to order the strikes. Former Representative Jane Harman (D-Calif.) admonished her fellow liberals: “We have to depersonalize this. Some people don’t like Trump, so they’re upset that he did this.” But “if a policy is right, congratulate those who are carrying it out.”

Others were less restrained in their support of Trump’s hawkishness. John Kerry stated that he was “absolutely supportive” of the Syria raid. Daily Beast columnist Matt Lewis nearly gushed with enthusiasm following that coercive action. “This seemed like a very different Donald Trump. More serious—and clearly moved emotionally.” Fareed Zakaria, the host of CNN’s program “Global Public Square,” concluded that “President Trump recognized that the President of the United States does have to act to enforce international norms, does have to have this broader moral and political purpose….I think there has been an interesting morphing and education of Donald Trump.” Indeed, he “became President of the United States last night.”

Left-of center endorsements of the president’s decision to continue the 16-year-old mission in Afghanistan seemed even more widespread and supportive. CNN White House correspondent Maggie Haberman underscored Trump’s comment in his television address to the nation that “we are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists.” She concluded not only that it was “one of his more forceful, best lines of [the] address,” but that Trump “gave his best speech as POTUS.” In an echo of the thesis Zakaria expressed following the Syria episode that Trump had grown in office, Daily Beast correspondent Sam Stein coauthored an article observing that “in a rare bit of self-reflection, Trump explained that the reason he changed his tune on Afghanistan was precisely because of the weight of his office.”

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