A GOOD ANALYSIS
Trump apologists claim everything is planned. So when the US president says avenging American missiles are heading imminently for Syria, then casually declares a day later that maybe they aren’t, a perplexed international audience is expected to believe the confusion is deliberate – a clever ploy to keep the bad guys off-balance.
In truth it’s Trump who is teetering on a high wire, wobbling and wavering, with a big drop and gaping chasm below. Trump’s “tweet of the day” approach to the Syrian crisis suggests to a watching world that an unheeding, impulsive president is making it up as he goes along, has no clue which way to jump and would really rather be golfing.
What has happened, they ask, to American leadership? What became of the Pax Americana? For US allies and enemies alike, in these noxious days of fear and loathing across Europe and the Middle East, Trump more closely resembles a circus ringmaster than a commander-in-chief.
Similarities between Trump and PT Barnum, the 19th century showman and hoaxer who ran an internationally notorious traveling circus, are striking. Like Trump, Barnum was a New York-based entrepreneur. Like Trump, he nurtured political ambitions and became embroiled in vexatious litigation. Like Trump perhaps, he subscribed to the old adage, which he supposedly coined, that “there’s a sucker born every minute”.
Trump’s increasingly bizarre and unpredictable behaviour – a Russian TV commentator this week dubbed it “unbelievable” – has created a new international circus, and this week it came to Syria.
It is currently also showing in London and Paris, where disconcerted allies struggle to discern what the US leader really wants while trying to avoid the appearance of dancing to his raucous tune. With one notional crack of the whip – his mention of “smart” missiles zooming towards Damascus – Trump sends a sizable chunk of Bashar al-Assad’s armed forces scurrying for cover. Another crack, and overexcited politicians in Russia are talking about the dangers of an escalating global confrontation and a third world war.
In Israel and Lebanon, worryingly, they have a ringside seat. In Iran, unabashed hardliners are selling tickets. “Roll up, roll up: watch and marvel as we destroy the Great Satan!” Meanwhile, military men in Washington and Moscow reportedly conspire to choreograph a neo-Strangelove conflict in which nothing they value gets broke. It’s like ballet with bombs.
The diplomatic circus spawned by Trump’s shenanigans is something to see. In New York, the UN security council, ostensibly the world’s premier political forum, meets in solemn session only to descend into a shouting match. You unfeeling Russians are protecting a “gas killing animal”, Trump’s minions declare. You Americans are plotting to destroy the Soviet Union, the Putinistas scream back, forgetting (again) that it is already destroyed.
The media, markets and pundits relish all the fun of the fair. No sooner is there a mention of bombing a Middle East country, up goes oil, down go stocks. Out come the pious priests of the left, seizing the moral high ground like an Iraqi tank brigade on the Golan in 1973. Just as fast, the right hits back. Bombing is good for you, say armchair veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and countless other conflicts. You have to kill people to save lives! Watching DJ Trump’s traveling circus of political panjandrums, diplomatic dunderheads and popular pandemonium is like watching bareback riders running round and round a ring.
They chase each other in circles. They get nowhere fast. Nobody “wins”. But it’s a grand spectacle, with the pulse-racing prospect of an ear-splitting finale. Yet in their highfalutin fury and prepaid passion, the performers seem to lose sight of the real issue – the dying people of Douma, sprawled in sand and sawdust where homes used to be.