Trump and his enablers tell us bombing a Syrian air-force base was driven by humanitarian principles. It was not. It was about ratings.
As the United States missile attack on a Syrian air-force base fades from the headlines, the most enduring thing about it seems to be confusion. What was it for?
The way President Trump tells it, he was deeply moved by pictures of babies dying as they fought for breath in the aftermath of a Syrian Government initiated gas attack. Later reports suggest that it was his daughter, Ivanka Trump, who persuaded him that he should bomb Syria to show that gassing babies was not acceptable.
The Comical Ali of the White House, Sean Spicer, (this way to the "Holocaust Centre")then went on to tell the world that if someone is going to gas babies or drop a barrel bomb on them, well, this President was going to act.
Going even further, Secretary of State Rex Tlllerson, said that the United States was going to protect the rights of innocent citizens whenever they were abused. The world now awaits the United States paying Boko Haram a visit to Bring Back Our Girls.
It is like something out of the Harrison Ford movie Air Force One. Ford plays the all-conquering leader of the free world who makes it clear that the United States is the world's sheriff and no-one, but no-one, should mess with it.
Trump apparently loved the movie but was warned by Ford that he needed to know the difference between fact and fiction if he was going to be President. It seems he does not.
Let's rewind. Trump has been opposed to doing anything in Syria because he could see nothing in it for the Unitred States. He is for America First, meaning he wants to be domestically focused and let the rest of the world work out its own problems. In line with this kind of thinking he has refused to allow Syrian babies, even when they have been gassed and bombed, into the United States.
We know Trump watches television because that is where he seems to get most of his ideas from. We know, therefore, that he must have seen that atrocities have been perpetrated on Syrian babies for a long time. Hundreds have died. Thousands have been hurt. Tens of thousands now live in refugee camps doomed to a horrible future. None of this has moved him. Until now. Why?
President Trump's domestic agenda is not going well. His White House is a leaking ship. He has made himself a laughing stock around the world and is taking his country down with him. What is a President to do but do what is always regarded as Presidential - bomb someone. So he bombed a Syrian air-force base (although he told one reported he informed the Chinese President that he bombed Iraq).
We are told that this is the act of a humanitarian. Asked how the attack was consistent with his America First position, we are advised that he is flexible, unpredictable and someone who likes to keep us guessing while he cuts a deal. In other words he does not have any principles.
So now we have someone in charge of the world's most formidable military machine who is going to operate on a whim. Worse, operate on a whim driven by his failure to get traction at home. In a matter of days, Trump has gone from his focus on destroying the legacy of his predecessor to confronting agressively any nation he considers is "asking for trouble".
This is not to deny that there are trouble spots in the world needing attention. North Korea is led by a lunatic who is abusing the people he rules on a daily basis - including babies. Given the words of Trump, Spicer, Tillerson and the influence of Ivanka, Kim Jung-Un had better get used to having an aircraft carrier parked in his backyard. If something bad happens to him few tears will be shed.
But the problem here is that the United States, despite all is military power, cannot bomb the "bad dudes" into behaving themselves. The United States is not the only power broker in a multi-polar world. Others, including North Korea, have the ability to fight back.
Working a way through all of this requires clear thinking, sound strategy, a sense of the end game and, when appropriate, the use of force. Trump does not want any of this. He wants to watch Fox News and act on insinct. Those instincts are not guided by principles, they rest on ratings. Trump is not the first President to care about ratings but he may be the first to make them his only yardstick. And now he has discovered how to get them off the floor.
It is a feature of the American Presidency that Presidents have much more freedom to operate off-shore than on-shore. Trump now knows this. During the election campaign he thought he could arrive in Washington (or Mar-a-Lago) and tell people what to do. Having spent his life as the owner of a real estate and branding business he has never actually run anything. At best he has been the Chair of the Board used to someone who does run something carrying out his wishes. Washington is much more complicated than he anticipated, Who knew?
But he has discovered that it is much harder to block him from acting as he wants to outside the United States and the impact on his ratings is immediate. Although not necessarily sustained. Since the attack the usual level of incompetence of the Trump team has quickly reasserted itself.
Who knows what will happen next. I mean that literally. If not knowing what to do is the new norm we will always be caught by surprise.
Whatever happens, do not call it principled. It will not be. It will be about one persons search for popularity. His success, unfortunately, may mean very bad ratings for the rest of us. Bigly!