Leading By Reaction

Reading time – 4:13; Viewing time – 6:26  .  .  .

There was a lot of talk about President Obama’s “red line” regarding Syria’s use of chemical weapons against its own civilians in 2013. Obama was and continues to be scorched by conservatives for having taken no action. What is so conveniently forgotten is that at the time there was a great deal of complaining about an “imperial presidency,” about presidents taking the country to war without the required consent of Congress. So, Obama went to Congress and asked for an official authorization for the use of force in Syria. Big surprise: the Republican majority Congress refused to even bring it up for a vote.

Now, President Trump is faced with his first foreign crisis, created by President Bashar al-Assad of Syria having yet again attacked his own citizens with sarin gas. Strangely, Trump has done a turnaround from his repeated warnings to Obama in 2013 to avoid any entanglement with Syria. Trump’s cautions followed Assad having just attacked his people with sarin gas. We saw the horrific pictures then and Trump was adamant that Obama not take action. Now, Trump is all about taking action, although nothing substantive has changed on the ground since 2013. President Trump, the “don’t touch Syria” guy,  launched 59 Tomahawk missiles into the al Shayrat Airfield near Homs, Syria on April 6. The attack was only symbolic, in that it won’t significantly change Assad’s military advantage or the Syrian civil war.

The fundamental of decision making is to start by declaring a vision of a better tomorrow – the “why” you do what you do. Once that is articulated, the next step is to identify what you will do to create that vision – that’s the strategy, the “what” stuff. Last is to decide on the tactics – the “how” you will do the “what” stuff.

Somebody please tell me what Trump’s vision is. No, not the marketing slogans he spouts endlessly, but the vision. What is the better tomorrow he wants to create?

Okay, that’s too hard, so let’s go to the strategies. What are Trump’s strategies? C’mon, name just one.

Okay, that’s too hard, too, so let’s name a tactic. Oh, right, he launched Tomahawk missiles in reaction to Assad’s reprehensible behavior, with Trump claiming he was deeply changed by what he saw, which as noted, was essentially, exactly what he saw in 2013 when he wasn’t deeply moved by what he saw and he advised President Obama not to interfere in Syria. Those Tomahawk missiles were launched in direct conflict with Trump’s own policy view and that of his chief strategist, Steve Bannon. “It’s America First,” they tell us, so what does a foreign civil war in the Middle East have to do with us and why should we get involved? Also, what strategy does the tactic of firing missiles serve? Betcha you can’t name one.

Try this: Trump has had failure after failure since he assumed office. He has been found to be woefully lacking as a leader and his approval rating has been in free fall. Now, instead of leading, he has become merely reactionary to external events and has fired off missiles at a Syrian airfield, an act which will change not very much in that civil war and which leads to nothing because it’s connected to nothing. Nevertheless, he will claim that the Tomahawk missile attack is proof that he is a strong leader. Listen for that at a Sean Spicer press briefing soon – maybe already.

Future events may show that attacking the al Shayrat Airfield was the right thing to do to prevent further attacks on Syrians by chemical weapons, barrel bombs and other munitions. It may become clear that this attack was necessary to protect American troops in the area and to prevent transfer of chemical weapons to third parties who might use them in the U.S. The world might prove to be overwhelmingly in favor of taking action against the atrocities Assad creates. However, it is sadly most likely that Trump’s decision to deploy our weapons was actually done to help Donald Trump rally domestic support for himself and to prop up his miserable approval rating.

As the Syrian people continue to suffer, they are still banned by this president from coming to this country for refuge from that awful war, even as Trump has puffed himself up on Tomahawk missiles.

In other news

“Morning Joe” on MSNBC, April 5, 2017

Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) made quite a name for himself in 2015 by trying to scuttle the Iran nuclear deal our diplomats were working hard to create. He wrote a letter (download a PDF of it here) and got 46 of his Republican senator pals to sign it and sent it off to the leaders of Iran. The letter essentially gave a lesson about our Constitution to the Iranians, with the clear implication that they should not trust those in the American administration with whom they were negotiating.

“The Lead, with Jake Tapper” on CNN, March 20, 2017

Our national history is that partisan disputes have always stopped at the water’s edge. Only the president negotiates with foreign powers and we stand united relative to the rest of the world. Undermining the President as Cotton did could easily be described as treason.

That’s why it’s so odd to see Cotton being interviewed so frequently on cable news shows now, as though he is an honest broker. Someone please tell me why any American should listen to him.

Finally, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell claimed throughout 2016 that he wouldn’t give a hearing to President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee because presidents never nominate to the Court in their last year in office. Of course, McConnell was right – except for Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and more (read more about it here). Now McConnell has used the so-called nuclear option to break a filibuster and the Senate permanently so he could jam his preferred candidate onto the Court.

And some wonder why the public’s trust in government is around 19%.


Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

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2 Responses to Leading By Reaction
  1. Dan Wallace Reply

    Jack, I’m afraid you give the Orange-Marmoset-On-Head-In Chief (as you know, I refuse to use his name and the name of the office he holds together – can’t bring myself to do it – being stuck looking as I write this at one of the towers that apparently compensates for his small hands is bad enough) way too much credit. There is no strategy. There are no tactics. There are just words and actions disconnected from anything that came before or after. I don’t think he is stupid per se, but he is exceptionally shallow, has minimal critical thinking capabilities and blows easily with any puff of prevailing wind. I have a strong hunch that Bannon is there because he saw in the pre-OMOHIC an empty vessel into which he could pour his deeply disturbed and disturbing world view. They had lunch, Bannon described it, and the pre-OMOHIC said, “Wow, you’re right! You’re my guy!” Which I’m sure he thought was great. Except that whenever he’s not in the room, the OMOHIC immediately gets another guy. His son-in-law. His daughter. Whoever happens to be the head of the NSC. And so on. Probably not Reince Preibus, whose dysfunctions can be excused because the poor guy had to go through high school named Reince Preibus, which would be enough to damage anyone. (I have a secret theory that Reince Preibus is a Germanization of “Rhino Proboscis,” which would translate roughly to “Nose Nose.”) So the failure of the dopey healthcare bill was the Dems’ fault! What? Oh, sorry, it was the Freedom Caucus’ fault! I knew that all along. Assad’s not our problem! You say he uses chemical weapons on his own people? I don’t believe it. I mean, I’ve never seen pictures of dead Syrian babies! What? Those are dead Syrian babies, killed by chemical weapons dropped on them by Assad? Assad is our problem!
    In short, Jack, don’t go looking for patterns or deeper meaning here. You will not find them. There is and will be only reaction to the most recent, typically visual, stimulus sent his way.

    • Jack Altschuler Reply

      Dan, I agree with all but two pieces.

      First the tactics piece. Tactics are all he has. Ever. Like tweeting that Obama wire-tapped his building. That was almost certainly a 6:00AM reaction to some inanity he saw hinted at on Fox News. He just blurted it out with no thought to consequences because he’s incapable of grasping the concept of consequences.

      Second, the “Nose Nose” thing. Actually, “Reince” is an acronym which translates from German to, “I’ll say anything they pay me to say.” And Preibus is an old German name from the Ruhr Valley which translates roughly to, “I’m a suck up.” I suggest you double check your German-English dictionary.