The 34th President of the United States, Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower, once quipped that “the supreme quality of leadership unquestionably is integrity.” Eisenhower most certainly would know, having been the Supreme Allied Commander that helped rid the world of Nazi tyranny before becoming a president who had to grapple with the Cold War against the Soviet Union abroad, and the battle for Black civil rights here at home. As with any presidency, his fraught with the vicissitudes that define current events, however, even is harshest critics “liked Ike” and would have been hard pressed to question his integrity with respect to grave matters like national security.
Though only in office for 75 days, the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump, did not ride into the White House as a beloved former warrior-statesman whose integrity is unquestioned by political friends and foes alike. While beloved by many mainstream conservatives and alt-right bigots who comprise the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party, Trump’s bombast, petty diatribes against political opponents in both parties, seeming lack of preparedness for the pedantic rigors of office, and obsession with battling with a media that he calls “fake news,” have not been able to help him bridge the gap between the #NeverTrump wing of the Republican Party, independent voters and most certainly not Democrats.
A clear example of Trump’s lack of integrity occurred yesterday amid reports that the Syrian government, still under the leadership of Bashar Al-Assad, had unleashed a deadly poison gas attack that killed scores of Syrian civilians. Trump’s knee jerk reaction was to blame his predecessor, PResident Barack Obama, saying that Assad’s airstrikes were “a consequence of the past administration’s weakness and irresolution.” Trump went on to add “President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a ‘red line’ against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing.”
Trump’s lack of integrity was on full display in assigning blame to Mr. Obama when considering that at the time, Trump fired off a series of caustic tweets urging Obama to AVOID getting involved militarily against Assad. In 2013, Trump wrote via Twitter that “The only reason that President Obama wants to attack Syria is to save face over his very dumb RED LINE statement. Do NOT attack Syria.”
Trump’s lack of integrity and lingering dialectical mendacity with respect to his relationship with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin also was and remains on full display when considering that at the time, Russia, an ally of the Assad regime, decided to play power broker and assured that they would not only urge Assad to forego using such weapons, but that they would oversee a reduction in his chemical weapons stockpile—an assurance that nearly five years later remains unmet.
Back in 2012, I harbored my own suspicions about the Obama administration leaving the Syrian crisis for the Russians to take primary responsibility in handling. I believed that his “red line” was unnecessary because of the fact that since 1997, the United Nations had acknowledged the Chemical Weapons Convention, an agreement among nations that updated the 1925 Geneva Protocol that was the first to forbid the use of chemical or biological weapons in warfare. I felt that Assad, like most tyrants, understood that use of such weapons could draw a rebuke by the United Nations and the United States, and that the President Obama had all of the authority that he needed to target and destroy Assad’s stockpiles—if not his entire military altogether.
I also understood back in 2012 that America was weary of war, and that the prospects of “boots on the ground,” coupled with the possibility of engagement with Russian forces that supported Assad, may have compelled the caution and restraint that Obama exercised and that then Citizen Trump urged via Twitter.
Still, five years into the Russian intervention, Assad still has chemical weapons and has no qualms at all with using them against his own people. President Obama is now Citizen Obama and can do little other than offering an opinion and a strong statement of rebuke, should he so choose. But it is Trump who sits in the Oval Office, ushered in with bombast of not only making America great again, but tough talk about America’s enemies “fearing” us again. The question, however, is whether Trump has a clear understanding of who is the enemy in this situation? Is his reticence to confront Putin for his lack of eliminating Assad’s chemical stockpiles as promised because he is either beholden to, or fearful of the man, or is it because Trump’s well documented aversion to Muslims gives him an indifference to the loss of Syrian civilian life that he would not have if this had been a chemical attack ushered by jihadist in, say, France or Germany?
I am not sure of the answer to either of the above questions, but what I am sure of is as this crisis continues to unfold, it will be interesting to see whether Trump can begin to recognize the proverbial Damoclean Sword hanging over his head, one that can figuratively decapitate a president who is unwilling to make wise decisions about hot zones across the globe. I am skeptical about Trump’s ability to do so based upon past actions that show that when it comes to saber-rattling, he talks tough like Sonny Corleone from “The Godfather,” but acts and leads like Sonny’s weak, fearful and all too trusting brother Fredo.