Thursday, May 25, 2017

From 9/11 to Manchester

From Daniel Henninger, at WSJ, "Donald Trump found out something about the presidency and the world on this trip":

Now we have Manchester and its 22 dead, many of them children. Somehow, we always end up back at 9/11, leaving flowers and candles again.

A political constant since 9/11 is that terrorism inevitably changes U.S. presidencies. I think the events this week—the president’s overseas trip and then Manchester—may have a similar effect on Donald Trump.

On Inauguration Day in January 2001, George W. Bush’s mind no doubt was filled with plans for his first term. Months later, his was a war presidency and would remain so.

Several things sit in my memory from the politics of that period. One is President Bush’s face as he addressed Congress on Sept. 20. He was a changed man. Also remembered is the solidarity of national purpose after the attack. The final memory is how quickly that unity dissipated into a standard partisan melee.

The Democratic point of attack became the Patriot Act’s surveillance provisions, a legal and legislative battle that ran the length of the Bush presidency. By the end of his second term, George Bush had become an object of partisan caricature and antipathy equal to anything President Trump endures now.

During Barack Obama’s presidency, four major terrorist attacks took place inside the U.S.: Fort Hood in 2009, the Boston Marathon in 2013, San Bernardino two years later and then Orlando in 2016. During these years, the locus of terror migrated from al Qaeda to Islamic State.

Volumes have been written about Barack Obama and terrorism, much of it about the president’s struggles with vocabulary terms such as war, Islam, extreme and radical. The killing of Osama bin Laden evinced a rare, passing moment of national unity.

With the opposition to the Trump presidency programmed for driverless resistance, there will be no national unity in the war on terrorism. The Democrats have become the Trump-Is-Russia Party, and that may be as good a way as any for them to spend their waking hours.

But even Hillary Clinton couldn’t duck the terrorism problem in the 2016 presidential campaign, and when Mr. Trump said he would “defeat ISIS,” his lack of nuance no doubt won him votes.

Which brings us to Manchester this week and memories of 9/11.

Note the political response to the Manchester murders. Again, total solidarity, such as this from European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker : “These cowardly attacks will only strengthen our commitment to work together to defeat the perpetrators of such vile acts.”

Post-9/11, naturally one expects such commitments to erode like sand castles. But this time, by coincidence, alleged Manchester bomber Salman Abedi murdered concertgoers in the same week Donald Trump was using his first overseas trip to build a coalition to defeat Islamic State.

This was not a routine presidential foreign trip for self-pomp and circumstance. Mr. Trump went to Saudi Arabia to initiate an anti-ISIS policy designed and midwifed by three Trump appointees and Middle East specialists—Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and national security adviser H.R. McMaster.

The policy entails the U.S. sale over 10 years to Saudi Arabia of $450 billion of military equipment—tanks, ships, precision-guided bombs—in return for Saudi leadership of an Arab-state coalition, which is their idea, to fight Islamic terrorists in the region and thwart Iran’s territorial ambitions.

A New York Times online summary of the speech Mr. Trump delivered Sunday in Riyadh called it “a speech about Islam.” I thought it was about something larger than that.

For instance, the Times and Washington Post ran stories about how the Trump foreign policy has demoted human-rights issues. It has not. Implicit in the Trump-Tillerson formulation is that defining the abuse of human rights as oppression by governments, such as Saudi Arabia’s, is too narrow. Now, any discourse over human rights must include the right not to have one’s life ended by acts of organized terrorism.

Grasping at Trumpian straws is a fact of life, but I am going to hazard not much more than a thought, which is that the president who left for Saudi Arabia last Friday will not be the same president who returns here this weekend...
Still more.