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Bashar al-Assad, this is vintage American!

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Bashar al-Assad / AFP PHOTO / SANA /

Saturday’s nocturnal bombing of Syria by a U.S.-led three-nation coalition, the second since Donald Trump became president in 2017, should finally wink the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, the hint that the current White House principal resident is radically different from his settled notion of the American. Donald Trump is the vintage American. Not since the former head of the Central Intelligence Agency, CIA, George W. Bush, senior, has the U.S. had a vintage American as president. A vintage American is that guy, who on pointing a gun at another guy, has the guts to pull the trigger if he has to. Succeeding presidents since Bush, senior, but one have come far short of that characteristic.

Bill Clinton, who succeeded the senior Bush, had cut the image of a fun-loving movie star; while the junior Bush never could even convince the rest of the world that he was the president of the most powerful country on the planet. Although he prosecuted a politically-costly war against Iraq, more from emotions than reason, because according to him, the hare-brained Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, had made an unsuccessful attempt at the senior Bush’s life. President Barak Obama was more effective as a talker than a doer. As a consequence, the U.S. presidency, which had since World War II excelled on her foreign policies, for all intents and purposes became a toothless bull dog since the senior Bush stormed the Persian Gulf.

Donald Trump’s predecessor decidedly took that un-flattery trajectory to a new low when he failed to make good his threat after Assad crossed the famous redline on the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war. Recall that Senator John MacCain, Obama’s arch-rival, made a meal of that presidential lapse. He taunted the president with, “before anyone points a gun at a person, such a one must first make sure they have the guts to pull the trigger.” That is the American way. Americans are essentially touch-talking, no nonsense cowboys/girls, who shoot from the hip. The vintage American does not fight shy of pulling the trigger – a fact not lost on Candidate Trump in 2016 – remember his frequent “I’ll bomb the hell out of ‘hem” banter. He had been discerning enough to see that his country men and women were becoming increasingly uncomfortable with his mealy-mouthed predecessors. He creatively stepped in to fill that void. Properly analyzed, little else could be said to account for Trump’s stunning 2016 victory over a well-healed establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton.

Also, Donald Trump’s extremely foul language is another measure of his vintage American qualities. In fact, a non-cursing American could be said to be a non-bona fide. Trump’s much-talked about “sh..hole countries” comments shouldn’t have surprised any knowledgeable person – it was all too American. Indeed, this is what would surprise most people: Abraham Lincoln, the most quoted, widely revered and recognizable US president ever, is recorded as one of the most foul-mouthed persons that have held public office. He was said to have an incurable habit of publically abusing his colleagues to his heart’s content. History has it that a particular Congressman who felt pained enough by Lincoln’s unprintable verbal attacks, had challenged the legendary president to a fight; which, typical of the American, the president had accepted! Abraham Lincoln?! Yes; the incomparable Abraham Lincoln. But those hawkish aspects didn’t diminish the iconic president, evidently.

Americans are nothing if not hawkish as the eagle – the U.S. symbol. And since the devastating nuclear bombing of the two Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, no country has again dared the wrath of the American Eagle. But Bill Clinton and Barak Obama’s uncharacteristic gesture at diplomatic finesse greatly demystified the U.S. might in global reckoning. This is one of the plausible reasons an Osama bin Ladin could dare to attack the Americans in their country; and an Assad could dare to cross a redline drawn by a U.S. commander-in-chief. Consequently, as Candidate Trump had repeatedly averred during the 2016 electioneering campaign, “No one respects America anymore!” It was one of his most compelling arguments. This is perhaps why his presidency is keenly anchored on making the U.S. great (respectable) again in all ramifications. Discounting those who loathe the man with a passion, it could be said that he is making a good work of that ambition.

And, rather significantly, the Russians are taking diligent notes. Vladimir Putin’s earlier threat to attack any source of bombing on Syria, has since Saturday’s bombing softened to calling for a United Nations investigation of the latest U.S.-led attacks on Syrian chemical weapons sites. The world can hardly do without such fine balance of power; and Assad should read between those lines, while focusing closely on the tragic fate of the misguided Iraqi leader when the chips finally came down – the U.S. and USSR didn’t go to war, in spite of thundering rhetoric, even as sorties of war-planes carpet bombed cities in Iraq. At some point during the media blackout operations, according to Hussein, the USSR leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, refused to take his beleaguered defence partner’s calls. (A poignant point to ponder for a venturesome Assad, hopefully) On one hand, like the senior Bush and Gorbachev in the last decade of the 20th century, Trump and Putin will never forget that they are Caucasian cousins, some generations removed. On the other hand, Assad, like Hussein is Arab. Unfortunately, history has an uncanny proclivity to repeat itself.

However, whether or not Assad gleans the inherent message in his senior defence partner’s subtle change of stance, it is absolutely necessary for the world to revert to the old sustainable balance of power of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) between the U.S. and the Russian Federation. A chilling acronym, that; but an effective MAD is an insurance of sorts that humanity will not destroy itself through mutual madness. Most recently, Salisbury, a sleeping town in the United Kingdom (UK), provided an instructive glimpse of some of the gruesome consequences of an ineffectual MAD. Sooner than later, I venture to submit, non-nuclear nations would begin to appreciate the merits in having a “crazy Trump” in the White House.

• Nkemdiche is an engineering consultant.


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