Bombs away! Wag that dog!

On Donald Trump’s Wag the Dog moment.

US President Donald Trump speaks about the suspected chemical attack in Syria during a press conference in the Rose Garden at the White House on April 5 [Reuters/Yuri Gripas]

Donald Trump orders missiles to be launched at Syria.

Is it a Wag the Dog moment?

The essence of the novel was that war is a solution to domestic political problems.

The essence of the film based on the book is that even the illusion of war is a solution to domestic political problems.

It doesn’t do anything for the actual difficulties: a bad economy, sex scandals, revelations of corruption, ineptitude or screw-ups. It changes the politics by changing the subject, by arousing patriotism and fear, by allowing the leader to demand that everyone unite behind the war effort, which is his – or her – war effort, and thus behind him or her.

Just as such wars are not meant to fix those actual problems, they are not fought to accomplish any particular military goal. They are fought – and must be fought – for how they will appear on TV for the home audience.

Credit has to go to Maggie Thatcher for showing the way.

Actually, re-showing the way. In America, war as a tool for domestic political issues fell out of favour after Vietnam. Far out of favour. War was a quagmire, it was a waste. War without victory made voters very unsatisfied.

It is important to remember that Thatcher was hugely unpopular. Her career appeared to be over. Then she had her war in the Falklands and the country rallied behind her. The British public was totally thrilled that at last they had found someone they could beat on their own. Ms Thatcher was re-elected and became the longest-serving British prime minister in modern history.

Will Mr Trump’s war save Mr Trump? And the Republicans?

Obviously and clearly it has succeeded in changing the subject matter of the political dialogue. The bombs were TV’s lead item and the newspapers’ front-page story.

It changed the tone, too. Fareed Zakaria who had called Trump a “bullsh*t artist” over and over again just a week earlier, now gushed that “Donald Trump became President of the United States.” USA Today printed “Trump hits high mark …” and tweeted “It was a successful week for the president. Will his #winning ways continue.” The New York Times wrote, “an emotional President Trump took the greatest risk of his young presidency … it 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.” Matt Lewis, of The Daily Beast, wrote “… very different Donald Trump. More serious – and clearly moved emotionally. Frequently invoked the Almighty.” An op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal declared that “President Trump faced his first serious foreign policy test this week … to the surprise and perhaps frustration of his critics, he passed with flying colours.”

Is it a real transformation, or a Wag the Dog moment?

The Syrian civil wars, atrocities and horrors remain. Attacking Assad, however wonderful, is still helping the ISIL. The simmering domestic scandals are still burbling away, waiting to erupt. The Republican majority, even with control of everything, will be as unable to govern next week as they were unable last week.

So, yes. It’s a Wag the Dog event. Great theatre whose goal has nothing to do with changing the world, only with having the audience applaud.

The novel laid out very clear rules for propaganda.

Wow! Even bow-wow!

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