Trump and his closest associates – whoever they may be today, because that changes rapidly – believe that this week was a very good week. It ended with a feel-good bombardment of the airfield in Syria from where a sarin gas attack had been launched, but earlier the White House had found an imaginary culprit in former National Security Advisor Susan Rice in the fake news story that Obama had spied on the Trump campaign, and in the Senate Mitch McConnell went nuclear to get Neil Gorsuch confirmed as Associate Justice. As NSA, Susan Rice had occasionally asked for the ‘unmasking’ of Americans who had been communicating with foreign agents under surveillance, and the White House sees this as proof that the Trump campaign was being monitored. There is, however, a serious flaw in its logic. The reason why Rice asked for the unmasking of individuals was that she didn’t know who they were, and if she already knew they were Trump associates, as the White House implicitly asserts, she wouldn’t have had to ask for their unmasking and thus risk that the suspicion of spying on the Trump campaign would fall on her.
In the Senate, logic was challenged in a different but no less incompetent way. For weeks the Democrats were told that if they used the filibuster against Gorsuch, McConnell would go nuclear and they would lose the chance to filibuster future Supreme Court nominees. The argument that even in Democratic circles had convinced some players came down to ‘don’t use the filibuster, because if you do you’ll lose it.’ The notion that if you cannot use something for the risk of losing it you have already lost it escaped these philosophers, but fortunately Chuck Schumer had no illusions that Republicans would not go nuclear with future confirmations and preferred clarity, something that was also demanded by a large part of the Democratic base. It is mind-boggling and laughable that a few Democrats apparently figured that McConnell, who practices hardball politics, would think ‘this seat is ours, because it belonged to Scalia, and therefore Gorsuch should fill it, but the next seat is anybody’s, and if let’s say Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s seat is the next to become available we’ll have to fill it with an equally progressive Justice.’
With regards to the bombing in Syria, it is obvious that the Trump administration has no strategy and therefore no idea how to follow up other than with militant rhetoric, which makes this an isolated act of war that, however deserved, should have been pre-approved by Congress. The fact that Russia had been informed in advance to minimize collateral damage and that the airfield was back in operation one day later gave food to some interesting conspiracy theories.
In the first theory Putin was the mastermind who convinced Rex Tillerson to suggest that the US would accept Assad as legitimate ruler of Syria, and subsequently gave an emboldened Assad permission to use some of his sarin gas, that Russia was supposed to have removed, all with the purpose of giving Trump a reason to cautiously bomb an airfield and get his popularity poll numbers up.
In the second theory there was no bombing at all, and the TV images of Tomahawks being launched from US Navy vessels were just that, images that had been recorded much earlier on a different occasion. In a fact free world, this Wag the Dog scenario is as plausible as any other.