Trump’s media critics praise Syria strikes

Fareed Zakaria and Brian Williams. (Photos: Kathy Willens/AP, Mitch Gerber/AP)
Fareed Zakaria and Brian Williams. (Photos: Kathy Willens/AP, Mitch Gerber/AP)

Longtime critics of President Trump suddenly and dramatically reversed their assessments of him after he authorized Thursday night’s missile attack on a Syria airbase.

CNN host Fareed Zakaria, who had called Trump a “cancer of American democracy,” praised him Friday morning following the strikes.

“I think Donald Trump became president of the United States,” said Zakaria of the man who had legally assumed the office on January 20. (In the opinion of another CNN commentator, Van Jones, Trump had actually become president of the United States on February 28, with his emotional tribute to the widow of a Navy Seal killed in action during his joint address to Congress.) Zakaria continued: “I think this was actually a big moment because candidate Trump had said that he would never get involved in the Syrian civil war, he told President Obama you cannot do this without the authorization of Congress, he seemed unconcerned with global norms. President Trump recognized that the president of the United States does have to act to enforce international norms, does have to have this broader moral and political purpose.”

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“I think what’s interesting is the way in which he justified his actions,“ added Zakaria. “For the first time as president, he talked about international norms, international rules, America’s role in enforcing justice in the world. It’s the kind of rhetoric we’ve come to expect from American presidents since Harry Truman. There’s been an interesting morphing and a kind of education of Donald Trump.”

MSNBC host Brian Williams, who had criticized other journalists for their favorable coverage of the president, was resoundingly positive in his coverage of the military operation, being overcome by the “beauty” of the missiles.

“We see these beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these two U.S. Navy vessels in the eastern Mediterranean,” said Williams Thursday night. “I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen: ‘I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.’”

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof — who called the Trump administration “breathtakingly incompetent” two weeks ago — has been praising the strikes, although hedging with his general mistrust of the president.

“Trump is right to make Syria pay a price for war crimes, and taking out airfields is the best approach,” wrote Kristof. “I do worry about his execution. … I support Trump’s strikes on Syria. But a challenge is that he has lied so often about so much that in a crisis he has little credibility.”

In an interview with CNN Friday morning, Kristof called the strikes “the right thing to do,” while admitting they were legally dubious and hypocritical.

MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” has been a frequent critic of Trump since his inauguration, with co-host Mika Brzezinski calling his presidency “fake” and banning White House counselor Kellyanne Conway from the show.

Friday morning, the show was more positive discussing the reaction to the strikes. Brzezinski mentioned the new dynamic of Trump being in a “foxhole” with his national security team, agreeing with Sen. John McCain when he said of Trump’s military advisers, “I’ve never seen better people.” Brzezinski then asked about the “psychological reset” that was happening following the strikes and how Trump had an opportunity for a reboot with the American people.

Conservative columnist Matt Lewis of the Daily Beast has not been a vociferous Trump critic, but his tweet from Thursday night offered a typical reaction to the president’s statement on the strike.

“This seemed like a very different Donald Trump,” wrote Lewis. “More serious — and clearly moved emotionally. Frequently invoked the Almighty.”