Want to look presidential? Drop a bomb
It is becoming pretty clear what it takes to have our news media describe you as “presidential.”
What you do is to lob a few bombs – actually, missiles in this case – at a perceived enemy.
Almost before the missiles landed on a Syrian airfield, critics, not only in the media but among both parties in Congress started gushing about how effective President Donald Trump was in ordering the strike and about how “presidential” his action was.
They also wasted no time in contrasting Trump’s action with the dithering lack of action by President Barack Obama in 2013, the last time Syria waged chemical warfare on its own people.
A week ago, Trump was a loser according to the critics in Congress and in the press. Today he is decisive, a winner, the “new sheriff in town” who will show Syria that it will pay a price for gassing its own citizens.
They may be right. The thing is, it is too early to tell.
What we know for sure is that we saw photos of Syrian children struggling for breath, that President Trump ordered a 59-missile barrage to target an airfield, and that the missiles exploded even while the president was having dinner with the president of China.
Here’s what we don’t know: We don’t know if the air strikes actually accomplished anything. A day after the bombing, Syria and Russia distributed pictures of Syrian fighter planes using the same airport. We know the president “tweeted” that we purposely didn’t target runways because runways are easy to patch. We really don’t know what was destroyed.
My question, however, is not with the efficacy of the attack. My question has to do with the definition of looking “presidential.”
Why is ordering an airstrike “presidential” but avoiding a potentially meaningless gesture is not?
Democrats and Republicans alike line up at microphones to scorn President Obama for not taking action in 2013.
But, in point of fact, Obama did take some actions.
First, he went to Congress to ask for authorization to take military action. Congress refused. Those who criticize Obama for an “imperial presidency” might want to think about that.
Second, Obama negotiated a deal with Russia to have Syria’s chemical warfare munitions destroyed. Apparently, Syria kept some of its stockpile – but there were no poison gas attacks during the remainder of the Obama presidency.
And the real legal justification for Trump’s actions against Syria seems to be based on the idea that he was actually enforcing the agreement the United States made with Russia four years ago.
As I said, it is way too early to know what the Trump action accomplished or what its ramifications may be. Some very qualified military people developed the plan.
But I do think those of us in the media might try being a little more cautious in determining what actions are “presidential” and what are not.
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