Trump's new leaf: Shock and semi-awe

Trump saves his own ass in a gilt foxhole at Mar-a-Lago

By Lucian K. Truscott IV


Published April 8, 2017 11:00AM (EDT)

 (Getty/Dominique A. Pineiro/Sabah Arar/Salon/Mireia Triguero Roura)
(Getty/Dominique A. Pineiro/Sabah Arar/Salon/Mireia Triguero Roura)

Let’s pause for a moment and ask ourselves what was so different for Donald Trump on Wednesday morning. Let’s start with the fact that he was still reeling from the previous two days. On Monday, it was revealed that his “informal adviser” Erik “Blackwater” Prince had traveled secretly to the Seychelles Islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean to meet with a Russian spy. Later that day, it was revealed that Trump’s former “foreign policy adviser” Carter Page had been recruited by two Russian spies back in 2013. On Tuesday, the FBI announced that it had established a special investigations unit of more than 20 agents dedicated to doing nothing but look into the connections between Trump, his campaign, and his transition and the Russian spies who attacked the 2016 elections. By that afternoon, Trump certainly knew that Steve Bannon would be removed from the National Security Council that day, and within 24 hours, Trump’s poodle on the House Intelligence Committee, Devin “Dim Bulb” Nunes, would be forced to recuse himself from its Russia investigation. All of this, it should be noted, came on the heels of James Comey’s big announcement a couple of weeks ago that his FBI had been conducting a criminal investigation of the Trump-Russian spy connection for more than nine months, not to mention Trump’s Attorney General, Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions, being forced to recuse himself from said investigation.

Quite a morning, eh? Then Trump turns on “Fox and Friends” and what does he see? Footage of little kids and babies in some town over in Syria nobody’s ever heard of being treated after a gas attack launched the previous day by known bad guy Bashar Assad. My god, without putting a pudgy little thumb on his tweeter machine, he was saved! Later that same day, at a big press conference with Jordan’s King Abdullah in the almighty Rose Garden, a grim-faced Trump lamented about the terrible images he had watched on TV that morning and hinted darkly that something would have to be done.

Just over 24 hours later, the Russia investigation was off the front pages, off the cable news shows, banished to the furthest reaches of the public’s consciousness when down at Mar-a-Lago, Trump gathered his “national security team,” in a hastily put-together “situation room” where everyone sat on gilded chairs pilfered from the ballroom and, with son-in-law and International Man of Mystery Jared Kushner at his side, the president of the United States launched 59 cruise missiles at some empty airfield in the Syrian desert in a show of Shock and Semi-Awe and drew Presidential First Blood. Wow. Out of the Rose Garden and into the foxhole at Mar-a-Lago overnight! A thrilling transformation of a man in crisis to a Man in Full.  

There's a new sheriff in town. That's  the "message" those 59 cruise missiles were supposed to send not just to Assad, but to the goddamned congressional committees, the FBI, hell, to every swingin’ dick in D.C. who didn’t know who the hell they were dealing with! Listening to the line-up of macho men on the morning shows on Friday — and yes, they were all men, at least in the first segments — it worked! You'd think that Washington, D.C., had just been hit with a brand new chemical weapon of mass delusion — The Viagra Bomb. The Talking Heads were so thrilled with Trump’s big exciting strike on one goddamned Syrian airfield they were practically vibrating in their chairs. I sat there watching the display of talking head peacockery and fluffing and strutting, embarrassed to be a man.

It’s probably useful to go back a couple of days to Thursday morning to really get a handle on the mentality  down in Washington as once again, fearing that our precious “national security” is under threat, we launch a strike against a country in the Middle East that doesn’t have the military capability to sink a rowboat. All you had to do was watch “Morning Joe” that day to know Something Was Up. There was the grim visage of former Council on Foreign Relations president and Rent-a-Hack Richard Haass as he stroked his chin and reluctantly — oh, so very reluctantly! — concluded that Something Has to Be Done about Assad in Syria. It was as if Haass and his fellow foreign relations graybeards had been waiting for years to hear an American president pick up a saber and rattle it the way Trump did in the Rose Garden on Wednesday with is 180-degree turn on Syria. Tuesday, everything was cool with Assad. Tillerson went out and announced that the status of Assad was in the hands of the Syrian people. But after sitting around the White House and watching “Fox and Friends” video of victims of the poison gas attack, Trump had changed his mind: “My attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much,” Trump managed to say. “It crossed a lot of lines for me.”

Haass’ buddy and fellow Iraq war cheerleader Thomas “I Get My Quotes From My Cab Drivers” Friedman had been  at least a day ahead of Rent-a-Hack Haass, having published his oh-so-reluctant rattling of saber musings Wednesday in the Times. These guys are nothing if not predictable. Take Assad and replace him with Saddam and you could have read the same Friedman column in 2002. His grim recounting of the Crimes of the Savage Dictator. His heart-rending sympathy for the poor, misunderstood, put-upon people suffering under the brutal dictator’s rule. His Cliffs Notes rendering of regional history stinking with oversimplification, obfuscation and outright lying. His Pink Cloud Hopefulness that by applying a little “international force, including, if necessary, some U.S. troops,” All Will Be Well.

Friedman managed to dig out yet another national security rent-a-hack, some nitwit he referred to as “foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum,” to give us the Straight Poop on the problems faced by eager saber-rattling hawks. “The only obstacle to putting real U.S. military leverage into Syria is democracy in America,” Mandelbaum opined angrily. Oh! That pesky democracy! Always getting in the way when the Council on Foreign Relations graybeards want to spill a little blood and waste a little treasure!

Mandelbaum, who apparently penned a tome called “Mission Failure: America and the World in the Post-Cold War Era,” continued wringing his hands and clutching his pearls with this learned conclusion: “The American public simply does not want to spend the blood and treasure to produce what would probably be a less awful but still not good outcome in Syria.”

Oh, the tragedy of it all! These damn American publics who aren’t ready to listen to Reason, Seriousness and Wisdom as delivered from the Council on Foreign Relations’ limestone townhouse on the corner of 68th Street and Park Avenue in New York City. You should see this place. It’s got an arched entryway with a big mahogany door with fat round brass doorknobs and arched windows and a couple of cute little trees in dark ceramic planters on either side of the door. It looks exactly like the kind of place the Kissingers and Brezinskis and Mandelbaums and Haasses and Friedmans and Issacsons of the world walk in and out of as they Ponder the Great Questions of War and Peace in Our Time.

But not to worry, Anxious Mandelbaum, your pal Tom Friedman is right there behind you, ready to pick up the slack beating the drums of war along the Hudson in the august pages of the New York Times -- The Newspaper of Record being another cheerleader for the Iraq war, as you may recall.

“Alas,” sighed dear Friedman, “I now think doing nothing is a mistake.” Really! Who would have guessed! “Doing nothing” in Iraq was considered a “mistake” by all Friedman’s fellow graybeards back in 2003, and what do you know, but here they are again, Tommy and Mikey and Richie, all of them gravely stroking their chins and pondering the costs of “doing nothing” all over again. “Just letting Assad keep trying to restore control over all of Syria will mean endless massacres,” Friedman concludes. Why my goodness! That’s a teeny tiny step away from the predicted results of doing nothing about Saddam, isn’t it? Too bad they don’t have fears of a “mushroom cloud” to toss into the mix, although they do have the sarin gas attack, which they are wielding expertly, I must say.

Watch this, as Friedman leads us down the garden path, pounding his drum as he goes: “It won’t be pretty or easy. But in the Cold War (remember Mandelbaum’s book title? These guys love hauling out the Cold War as a Big Lesson Learned) we put 400,000 troops in Europe to keep the sectarian peace there and to keep Europe on a democracy track.” By golly, Tommy! That should do it! 400,000 troops is a nice big round number! And we’re not going to dick around with 140,000 this time, like Rummy did in Iraq! No sir, we’re going to Mobilize! We’re going to have to load up goddamn troop ships and C-5 cargo jets and ship 400,000 warm BDU-clad bodies over there, and this time, goddamnit, we’re going to Show Them How It’s Done! “That should at least stop the killing,” Friedman assures us. And oh, by the way, stop “the refugee flows that are fueling a populist-nationalist backlash all across the European Union.” The refugees, he might have added, that Trump has sought to ban from our shores with his so-called “travel ban” on seven majority-Muslim countries, featuring Syria as first among them.

Friedman doesn’t explain how putting 400,000 heavily armed troops on the ground in Syria will “stop the killing” since that is precisely what such troops are trained to do. Nor does he explain how all those troops and all those weapons will keep Syria and presumably the whole region “on a democracy track,” since not one Muslim nation has shown the least bit of eagerness to embrace the all-good-all-the-time-ness of “democracy.” But by god, our pal Tommy the Big Time New York Times Columnist is going to provide liberals cover by assuring them that spending a few bucks and a few bodies will put a stop to all that goddamned right-wing nonsense fucking up the “Post-Cold War Era” his buddy Mandelbaum seems so worried about.

But of course Donald Trump, who actually asked the Pentagon if he could have a full-on display of Military Might with tanks and mobile missiles and rocket launchers passing in review at his Inaugural Parade, didn’t need any encouragement to order himself up some blood-letting in Syria. Thursday night he hit the guy he was perfectly fine with only a few days ago, Assad.

By Friday at 6 a.m., the graybeards were lined up on “Morning Joe” ready to put their Official Pundit Stamps of Approval on Trump’s big macho move the night before.

For starters, they wheeled out Friedman and right behind him Bob Woodward, late of Watergate, currently of his Georgetown drawing room. Friedman dug deep into his bottomless pit of war-wisdom and started it off with a bang: "It was the right decision," he said darkly, practically shaking his little cheek pouches with excitement. "What would be the message to international order if we didn't attack?" International order, you moronic piece of macho horse shit? But he was only getting started. Now the Council on Foreign Relations diplo-speak really started to flow: "We are the bulwark of freedom, and we had to act."

Woodward, who “wrote” a "book" fluffing 43's feathers called "Bush's War," which was virtually a flight suit between covers, appeared disappointed that Trump didn't go further. "Donald Trump, who always builds the tallest building, did something little. There are six airfields in Syria and he only took out one of them." But sending 59 genuine Raytheon Tomahawk-brand Mark IV cruise missiles wasn't enough for Bob. He started babbling about "Operation Desert Fox" back in 1998, when Clinton attacked Saddam's alleged WMD sites for 78 hours! Clinton went big! Trump went small! Bob was all upset! He didn't get to see enough cruise missile launches! "The question is, should Trump do more?" We had our answer in the look on poor Bob's disappointed face.

Friedman wasn't finished practicing the speech he will no doubt be giving to all the swells up at the Council on Foreign Relations over the weekend. "We had no leverage," Tom lamented. "This is beginning to give us some leverage with Putin and Assad and Iran. The best-case scenario is this will begin a dialogue with Russians."

Gee, and I always thought the way you begin a dialogue with Russians is to pick up the phone rather than send 59 cruise missiles into a country that isn't even Russia.

But not to worry. The macho men weren't finished. “Morning Joe” turned to Woodward with a Very Serious Look and asked him what the lesson is, and what do you know, but Woodward didn't disappoint. "The lesson is, sometimes less is more. Sometimes you don't have to nuke 'em."

Yes, folks, he actually said that. But he wasn’t finished:

"This is first blood for Trump and his team. It's like they're finally in the foxhole together, only the foxhole is the situation room." Ignoring the fact, of course, that Trump and his newly-blooded team were nowhere near the White House situation room on the night they attacked Syria. Their bloody foxhole was the gilded cage of Mar-a-Lago.

Wouldn’t you know it, but now that Trump has flexed his military might, the talking heads on "Morning Joe" are right behind him when it comes to distracting everyone from the three investigations pounding on the White House door: two congressional intelligence investigations, and one FBI criminal investigation into the Trump campaign’s involvement in Russian spies stealing our election last year.

But isn’t it nice that Trump will have all the help he wants from the Thomas Friedmans and Michael Mandelbaums and Richard Haasses of the world? Even now, they’re probably laying out soggy canapes and magnums of bad white wine up on East 68th Street at the CFR headquarters, getting ready for the Important Panel Discussions and Big-Time Foreign Policy Experts who will soon be exiting their Ubers and climbing the steps and shaking hands and slapping the backs of their buddies who did the same fucking thing back in 2002 when they were beating the drums of war in Iraq. And Washington Post pundit David Ignatius will be right there with them with the closer. "Jared Kushner traveled to Iraq last week. He has bonded with Trump's national security team. Jared Kushner is today the most popular man in the Arabian Gulf."

Thank god Warrior Jared was at Trump's side on Thursday, or he might not have launched his 59 cruise missiles, and then where would we be? Our national security in tatters, Assad probably ready to launch chemical weapons on some preschool on Long Island, oh my god we would be in so much danger without Jared!

Don’t these dullards ever learn anything? I guess not. And as I have pointed out previously, Trump’s generals were not there to save us. Even now they’re strapping on their sidearms and polishing their brass and starching their BDU’s getting ready for the Next Big One. One-star generals? Two stars are waiting! Two-star guys and gals? Three stars just ahead! And three-stars? The four stars you’ve lusted over all of your lives are yours for the taking. All you’ve got to do when Trump sounds his bugle is salute and yell, “Yes sir! Can do!”

Which they certainly did last Thursday. Pull up a few destroyers in the Mediterranean and launch a few cruise missiles and we’re off on another folly in the Middle East, trailing blood and regret behind us. Bombing just one Syrian airfield this week does not bode well for the future. Not to worry, however. Our boys Friedman and Mandelbaum and Haass and Woodward will be safe and secure up on East 68th Street at the Council on Foreign Relations as we begin to load thousands of troops into an idling flock of Lockheed Martin C-5 Galaxies to carry them once again over to the sands of Arabia to face the bullets. Don’t worry about a thing, all of you young soldiers soon headed over there to war. Jared “Warrior” Kushner has your back. He made his report to father-in-law Trump in his foxhole down in Florida just before they headed out to Trump National Golf Club Mar-a-Lago for a quick round of golf.

By Lucian K. Truscott IV

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He has covered stories such as Watergate, the Stonewall riots and wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels and several unsuccessful motion pictures. He has three children, lives in rural Pennsylvania and spends his time Worrying About the State of Our Nation and madly scribbling in a so-far fruitless attempt to Make Things Better. You can read his daily columns at and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

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