The G-File

National Security & Defense

Trump Enforces Obama’s Red Line

The strike on Syria is the single best proof that Trump has no overriding commitment to any ideological position — and I say that as someone who supports the strike.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (particularly the caretaker of Camp David, who must feel like the Maytag repairman watching the goings-on at Mar-a-Lago),

Well, this’ll be interesting.

After Thursday night’s attack on Syria, the conventional wisdom congealed faster than the chalupa sauce in Michael Moore’s chest hair.

Sorry, this isn’t really a topic for strident juvenilia, but I know that’s one of the things that puts digital asses in the virtual seats.

Let me start over.

I think Thursday night’s attacks are both less and more important than the rapidly forming conventional wisdom holds. This is a convoluted way of saying I see it a bit differently from some folks. And since I’m on a tight schedule, let me do it bullet-point style:

‐ I think the foreign-policy consequences of the strike are likely to be less consequential than the domestic ones. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has already said, quite emphatically, that the strikes don’t suggest any change in our overall strategy:

“I would not in any way attempt to extrapolate that to a change in our policy or posture relative to our military activities in Syria today. There has been no change in that status,” [Tillerson] added. “I think it does demonstrate that President Trump is willing to act when governments and actors cross the line and cross the line on violating commitments they’ve made and cross the line in the most heinous of ways.”

As we put it in our National Review editorial Friday morning:

If it is a one-off, this strike is the very definition of a symbolic pinprick. It was launched with highly precise weapons against the airfield from which the Syrian chemical attack emanated. According to reports, we apprised Russian personnel at the base beforehand, meaning the Syrians effectively had advance warning as well.

In other words, if this is all that we have in store for Bashar al-Assad, President Trump’s dismayed anti-interventionists don’t have that much to worry about and interventionists have less to celebrate than think (more about them in a moment). Assad can go on killing women and children — he will simply have to use less efficient and more conventional weapons to do it. What a massive moral victory for the West!

‐ Look, I get why — morally, strategically, and legally — chemical weapons are different than conventional ones. But if my entire family and village were wiped out with bullets and bombs rather than chemical weapons, I wouldn’t draw much solace from any of these distinctions.

But the idea that the chaos in the White House is a function of bad staff is grossly unfair, even to Bannon. The chaos isn’t a bug in the Trump program — it is the program. It’s how he likes to run things. He could bring in a whole new roster of people, the result will likely be the same.

‐ I’ll close with this. Some defenders have argued that Trump is merely a pragmatist. Don’t worry, I won’t rehash all my anti-pragmatism stuff. But I will say that this defense often makes a profound moral, political, and ideological error. Pragmatism (conventionally defined) about means is generally fine, within limits of course. But pragmatism about ends isn’t pragmatism at all, it’s Nietzschean nihilism. If your goals are made slaves to your desire to seem like a winner, then the question of what you “win” at becomes entirely negotiable. Conceptually, this is the difference between a knight and a mercenary. A knight fights for certain lofty ideals; a mercenary fights to win and reap the rewards. Politically, this is the lesson of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s governorship. He decided that he’d rather be a successful liberal governor than a failed conservative one.

If I were Coulter, Ingraham, or Sean Hannity I’d make a lot more money fighting the “establishment” than I do allegedly defending it, but that’s not important right now. If I were them, I’d be terrified by the reaction to the strike. Trump is getting good press. He’s being hailed as a strong and decisive leader. He’s got heart. John McCain and Marco Rubio are praising him, as are a host of foreign leaders. This would scare me for two reasons. First, if I were a committed America Firster like Coulter and Ingraham, I’d see this for what it is: incredibly positive reinforcement for a politician who responds to flattery more than most. But, second, I’d recognize that the lesson Trump might learn from this is that your poll numbers and press clippings get better when you throw your biggest fans under the bus and listen to the establishment, Jared Kushner, or Lord knows who else.

Various & Sundry

This really doesn’t belong in the V&S section, but I didn’t want to let it go by. It’s rather amazing that Donald Trump’s greatest accomplishment and the most significant conservative victory in a long time is secondary news this week. Neil Gorsuch will be the next justice on the Supreme Court. Trump deserves congratulation and so do the people who, despite their misgivings, voted for Trump solely on this issue. If that’s all you cared about — and I don’t mean that in a pejorative way at all — you’ve been vindicated. Now, all conservatives — and I mean all — should be resolutely clear that Trump should either stick to his list of potential nominees or, at the very least, promise not to stray leftward from it. The job of conservatives, as ever, is to make it in the political interest of Republicans to do conservative things.

Canine Update: I am going to forgo the usual reportings of my own canine companions this week because I have a different canine update. Longtime readers of mine will remember my old wing-hound, the late great Cosmo the Wonderdog. A few might remember that Cosmo’s best friend and partner in all manner of adventures was my sister-in-law’s (and brother-in-law’s) dog Buckley. Buckley, or “Buckles” as we often called him, was one of the sweetest beasts I’ve ever known. He died this week at the age of 13. Cosmo and Buckley loved each other even more than their humans loved them. When they’d see each other in the neighborhood, they’d run to each other like war buddies delighted to learn the other one had survived the enemy offensive too.

Physically, Buckles could have kicked Cosmo’s tail region six ways from Sunday, but he was quite literally America’s most harmless dog — unless you were a deer or a squirrel. For Cosmo had trained him in the sublime art of critter chasing from his earliest days. They were, for a time, master and apprentice:

Cosmo tried to school Buckley in his own Mencken-like misanthropy, distrusting humans from outside the pack. But it never took. Whenever strangers came to visit, and once Buckles had confirmed that the humans weren’t squirrels in human disguises (trust but verify!), he would put his head in their laps and flash them his baby browns. Coz just muttered his disapproval.

In Buckles’s old age, he got a little more lumpy and a little more grumpy, at least toward other dogs. He had little use for Zoë, whose wild puppiness elicited grave concern, as seen here. And I couldn’t blame him.

Anyway, he will be dearly missed. The world is always better with dogs and it’s always a little worse when they go. After Buckles passed, Carrie and Amit and the kids said a little prayer for him. Unprompted, my nephew Owen, who never knew Cosmo, added at the end, “He’s in Heaven now, playing with his good friend Coz.”

Rest in Peace, big guy.

ICYMI . . .

Why does F. H. Buckley want Trump to promote single-payer health care?

Trump’s character is his presidency’s biggest enemy.

What does it mean that Steve Bannon left the National Security Council?

My radio hit on Chicago’s Morning Answer.

Syria and the difficulties of realism.

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Thursday and Friday links

Man who believes himself to be the reincarnation of King Arthur holds pagan rituals at Stonehenge (foolishly forgetting that Arthur is healing from his wounds at Avalon and will someday return)

New weight-loss therapy involves self-immolation

Why do cartoons only have four fingers?

Why do cartoons wear gloves?

2017 Sony World Photography award winners

Sharknado is upon us

The birth of Comic Sans

Was the T-Rex a sensitive lover?

Tokyo at rush hour, in pictures

Nazi Jurassic Park

Tropical fish with opioids in their fangs

The quest for McDonald’s pizza

When the world went crazy over Y2K

Dog saves wedding party from suicide bomber

The fascinating history of the potato cannon

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

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