America First: Donald Trump’s campaign slogan had a succinct, obvious power. Just two words summed up the instinct that Washington—and big business—was no longer working in the interests of ordinary citizens. The slogan encompassed his (and his supporters’) suspicion of trade deals like NAFTA, as well as the never-ending wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. Despite its ugly historical antecedents—America firsters, including a few prominent anti-Semites, had lobbied to stay out of World War II—the phrase had undeniable political appeal in 2016. But in the complex world of foreign affairs, America First couldn’t last. And it didn’t.
In early April, President Trump stood in the Rose Garden with King Abdullah II of Jordan, a strong ally of the United States, and someone who had been dismayed by America’s Middle East policy under Barack Obama. By then, Trump had been briefed twice on the chemical weapons attack in Syria. He had been “absolutely sickened,” an aide put it, by the images of “babies, little babies,” as the enraged president put it, dying slow, torturous deaths. No one needed to mention that Trump’s eighth grandchild, Theodore, the son of his daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, is just one year old, and had first begun to crawl in the White House earlier this year. Trump’s emotion was real—and raw.
In 2013, Trump had taken to Twitter, saying it was foolish for the U.S. to get involved after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces had used chemical weapons against civilians—a judgement Obama ultimately…
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