Coming from The New York Times, it was almost a compliment.
As the liberal leader of the mainstream media, The Times has played an outsized role in the so-called “Resistance” bent on crippling the Trump administration’s efforts to restore some sanity in American government.
But when it came to the strikes President Donald Trump ordered Friday in coordination with the U.K. and France to punish Syria for its use of chemical weapons last weekend, The Times was forced to tell its readers the truth for a change.
The headline on the Washington-datelined “news analysis” betrayed just how grudging the newspaper’s description was: “President Trump Talked Tough. But His Strike on Syria Was Restrained.”
The first half was apparently aimed trying to make Trump look bad, implying the White House is given to blustering when it comes to foreign policy, but it was the second part that mattered — the strike on Syria was “restrained.”
As the unofficial house organ of the Democrat Party, The Times has a vested interest in playing to its readers’ beliefs — and media hysteria — that Trump is an unhinged, “Dr. Strangelove” American president bent on pulling the nation and the world into war. (“Trump taunts Russia,” CNN blared Wednesday, making the White House look like the aggressor.)
But The Times news analysis told a very different story:
“The United States and its European allies chose three targets instead of the single air base hit last year and used twice as many weapons. Still, American officials said the attack was intended as a proportional strike aimed specifically at Syria’s chemical weapons facilities rather than a broader set of targets and was a one-time, one-night assault to punish Damascus for a suspected gas attack last weekend …
“For all of Mr. Trump’s tough language this week, the variant he chose made no apparent effort to damage Mr. Assad’s broader war machine or his government’s command and control of its forces beyond its chemical weapons. The one-night burst of ordnance appears unlikely to change the overall balance of forces in Syria seven years into its bloody civil war. But the president hoped it would be enough to deter Mr. Assad from using chemical weapons again without being so damaging as to compel Russia and Iran to intervene.”
Of course, the language is deliberately chosen to paint Trump in a bad light. Describing Friday night’s strike as not damaging Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s “broader war machine” evokes memories of the miserable “unbelievably small” strikes envisioned by then-Secretary of State John Kerry back in 2013. (Even then-President Barack Obama was embarrassed by that at the time, The Washington Post reported. Though he clearly hasn’t learned anything since.)
But the reality, which The Times was forced to admit so grudgingly, was that Friday’s strikes were forceful enough to send the message that Assad and his Russian and Iranian supporters needed to hear:
The United States has the ability to strike targets of its choosing, and will enforce “red lines” of behavior.
The Times even quotes Defense Secretary James Mattis making that point, with usual Mattis bluntness.
“Right now this is a one-time shot and I believe it has sent a very strong message to dissuade him, to deter him from doing it again.”
Given the realities on the ground, with Iranian and Russian forces directly supporting the Assad regime, a military action by the United States and its allies has to thread the needle between effectively punishing the Syrian government and risking a proxy war in Syria turning into a shooting war.
Friday’s air strikes, conducted with allied militaries from the U.K. and France, appear to have accomplished those twin goals.
And for once, even The New York Times was forced to report the truth — even if it hurt. And when it comes to the Trump administration and The New York Times, the truth is almost a compliment.
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