The media has fallen over itself to praise the U.S.’s attack against Syria last night, with many mainstream pundits proclaiming that Donald Trump has finally “become president.” But perhaps the most egregious example of this rosy coverage came from the Times, which claimed, in a piece headlined “On Syria Attack, Trump’s Heart Came First,” that Trump was primarily motivated by his great sympathy for the Syrian people. Trump’s decision to drop 59 missiles on Syria, Mark Landler writes, was “an emotional act by a man suddenly aware that the world’s problems were now his—and that turning away, to him, was not an option.”
It’s true that Trump claimed that the images of Syrian children killed by chemical weapons had a “big impact” on him. But this is exactly the kind of boilerplate that leaders of all kinds use when they launch attacks against other countries. The reasons we go to war are always humanitarian. This is the oldest trick in the book. That Landler is so credulous is especially unbelievable when you consider that Trump tried to ban Syrian refugees—very much including children—from entering the United States. If his heart was full for the children of Syria, Trump could have, I don’t know, taken them in?
Worse still, there is zero proof that Trump actually believes this, other than what he has said publicly. It seems to have come solely from Landler’s imagination. In fact, the administration denies Landler’s interpretation of how things went down. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the Times, “I do not view it as an emotional reaction at all.” This is, of course, an attempt to build a narrative that Trump is steely, presidential, in control. (Axios Presented By Raytheon reports that the strikes are part of Trump’s “leadership week,” the aim of which is to prove that he is a leader.) But thanks to the Times, Trumps gets to have it both ways: He is in control and his heart bleeds.