Here’s this week’s news quiz. Why did Donald Trump attack his chum Vladimir Putin after reports that Putin’s puppet, Bashar al-Assad, had again used nerve gas to kill children in a rebel-held area near Damascus?
A) Is Trump, with Robert Mueller closing in, trying to signal distance from Putin?
B) Is his new national security adviser, John Bolton, more of a Middle East hawk?
C) Was Trump genuinely troubled by the appalling images of suffocating children?
D) Is Trump trying to repair America’s frayed alliance with Europe?
E) Does Trump, who also lashed out against the Kremlin’s poisoning of a former double agent in Britain, have a thing about slow, agonizing death?
No, gentle reader, none of the above. Trump issued his indignant tweets after seeing the carnage on Fox News.
Basically, Trump derives nearly all of his abrupt policy statements based on what he watches on Fox. So the most powerful foreign-policymaker in the country is some junior Fox producer who decides what to air.
For the most part, if a major story makes headlines elsewhere but doesn’t play into the Fox narrative, it is ignored. Since nerve gas dropped on civilians in Syria didn’t quite fit the Fox template, pro or con, the gang at Fox went with the indignation, and Trump followed.
But what of Putin? Is Trump for real? Or was this just a momentary lapse?
The Treasury has lately gotten a lot tougher with blockage of financial activity by oligarch cronies of Putin. But angry tweets don’t exactly add up to a Syria policy, and Trump is basically in the same box as Obama was when it comes to deciding what sort of retaliation and against whom.
A colleague observes that he will believe Trump is serious about breaking with Putin when Trump begins using one of his trademark nicknames to mock the Russian leader.
Let’s see: Sad Vlad? Venal Vlad? Vlad the Impaler? Vladimir Puta? Poisoner Putin? Puppeteer Putin? Pukey Putin?
Is it great having foreign policy made via schoolyard insults, or what?