What’s America’s Next Move In Syria?

Is the Trump administration conflicted over the next move in Syria? CNN and the Washington Post seem to think so. I think the media is wrong.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told ABC News “This Week” that ISIS was our first priority. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley told CNN that “We don’t see a peaceful Syria with Assad in there.” But she also said that defeating ISIS was America’s first priority. Where’s the conflict in that?

Haley said we have multiple priorities. Keeping to “red lines” set by former President Obama is a priority I think most American politicians are on board with. That’s not going to stop atrocities in Syria. But whoever said that we had to build policy goals around red lines? Defeating ISIS is a policy goal. Regime change in Syria would be a policy goal if we chose to pursue that.

Tillerson and Haley indicated that Assad’s fate is not going to be dictated by the United States.

“In that regard, we are hopeful that we can work with Russia and use their influence to achieve areas of stabilization throughout Syria and create the conditions for a political process through Geneva in which we can engage all of the parties on the way forward, and it is through that political process that we believe the Syrian people will lawfully be able to decide the fate of Bashar al-Assad,” he added.

Syria has been a thorn in America’s side for seven years. If there were a single country that’s attracted every evildoer within 1,000 miles, that’s the place. ISIS, Al Queda, Hizbollah, Iran, and Bashar Assad’s own brand of crushing despotism all fight there for primacy on a heap of bodies, drawing Russia and America into what could be a proxy war for control.

The Russians support Assad because he has kept Syria as a client state, giving them access to a Mediterranean warm-water port, and cash for modern weapons systems like the S-300 air defense system. If Assad is to go, the Russians are not going to let him go without having someone else in power who will continue his Russia-friendly policies.

Letting Assad stay guarantees years more of bloodshed and atrocities. But Assad isn’t going to leave without offering protection to the million or so Alawites, the minority sect that ruled Syria for 40 years. Decapitating Syria would certainly result in a proxy war for control of the country, with Russia supporting a Baath party or other friendly player.

For ISIS and other radical Sunnis, Alawites are considered heretics. The Baath Party in Syria cemented itself as enemies of Sunni religious leaders 43 years ago.

Then, in the second move, [Hafez al-Assad] arranged for a respected Islamic jurisconsult (not from Syria but from Lebanon, and not a Sunni but a Shia) to issue a finding (Arabic: fatwa) that Alawis were really Shia Muslims rather than heretics. This was not merely an abstract bit of theology: as heretics, Alawis were outlaws who could be legally and meritoriously killed—as we have seen in recent events in Syria.

Syria has really been in a sort of civil war ever since. In 1983, the elder Assad destroyed the city of Hama then rebuilt it, sending the message that life will be good for Syrians who do not oppose him. But now, the younger Assad does not have the luxury of complete control. Without Russian assistance, and freedom of air supremacy, the rebels may have defeated Assad several years ago.

That leaves “regime change” in Syria as a rabbit hole with no end, other than a Vietnam-style war. The Russians share our goal of destroying ISIS, and we have the benefit of NATO cooperation, along with enormous influence and strategic operations in Iraq. Together with the Russians, we can defeat ISIS. That likely means leaving Assad alone until the objective is complete.

It doesn’t mean we have to sit on our hands when Assad crosses red lines, though. Tomahawk missiles are a potent reminder that America can strike whenever and wherever we want. It’s only through our telegraphing our intent and warning Russian troops that Assad forces were able to escape more significant damage. It was the message that’s important, not the attack itself.

The Doolittle raid over Tokyo 75 years ago this month did little damage to Japan, but it sent a message that America was willing to spent an enormous amount to make a statement. America just spent up to $60 million to destroy some Syrian airfield facilities (and no, we couldn’t destroy the runway in a cost-effective manner). The message wasn’t that America is going to conduct a “shock and awe” war against Assad. It was that we are not going to allow chemical weapons to be used without responding.

Our implicit message is the next response might be a bit more personal to Assad.

Contrary to the media’s hot takes, President Trump hasn’t reversed course and policy on Syria. He reacted to a terrible event and acted on his gut where Obama acted cerebrally. In fact, Trump did the right thing. American policy is still to destroy ISIS, and I expect we’ll see our relations with Russia in the skies over Syria patched up soon once they realize we aren’t out for regime change.

The message on the Sunday talk shows wasn’t intended for the American press–it was intended for Vladimir Putin. It was a public acknowledgement of what’s surely being told to him privately. Regime change in Syria may be inevitable, but America isn’t going to call the shots.

Tillerson Gave The Perfect Answer to North Korea’s Missile Launch

“North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gave the perfect answer to the Nork’s latest missile fizzle.

(For the benefit of anyone planning to accuse me of plagiarism, I have copied this quote verbatim from my colleague Susan Wright, who obtained it from Reuters.)

While Susan made a great point about how North Korea and its corpulent, badly-coiffed, evil ruler (she called him a “power-mad little troll” but that’s far too cute to plagiarize) and their single-minded pursuit of ever-more-terrible weapons of mass destruction, she has, I believe, mischaracterized Tillerson’s response.

Instead of “ho-hum,” Tillerson’s right on target. The United States has spoken enough. We’re done speaking about North Korea, or responding to their very real provocations. We’re done dealing with words. When Trump and Tillerson meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday, they will be discussing actions, not words.

CNN reported a quote from a “senior White House official” declaring “the clock has now run out and all options are on the table.” This means either China is going to play by American rules, or they forfeit their move.

“China has great influence over North Korea. And China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won’t. And if they do that will be very good for China, and if they don’t it won’t be good for anyone,” Trump said. “If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. That is all I am telling you.”

A number of years ago, I spent some time outside of Wonju, South Korea, at a little place called Camp Long, which is near Camp Eagle. I learned a few things there. One of them is that you can have a great meal with Bulgogi and all the beer you can drink for $3.50. But that’s not important right now (plagiarizing Jonah Goldberg here).

Lesson 1: ROK troops take security seriously–having a couple of M-16’s pointed at my face while my papers were checked is humbling (that was at Camp Eagle–Camp Long had mall cops in comparison).

Lesson 2: If the “balloon went up,” my plan to abscond with the nearest motor pool vehicle and drive south until I saw ocean was pretty dumb. The base head of CE (civil engineering), a civilian, told me flatly that we were inside North Korean artillery range, and therefore would likely perish quickly from chemical weapons. At least it would be quick.

Everyone in South Korea–American and Korean–knows that having the Norks close by is having death always hovering over your head. This is important because Jim Geraghty noted an NBC News report of how Americans in Korea are “filled with growing dread” over President Trump’s hard line on North Korea. NBC’s take is misleading at best.

While North Korea is a wildcard that loves to project strength and assured destruction for the smallest of retaliations, they haven’t been put in their place for years. It may be time to give them some reason for pause. If China knows we’re nothing but talk, they won’t do anything decisive to stop Kim Jong Un’s nuclear and ICBM program.

Fortunately, America has two things in our favor: Planting season and stealth weapons.

North Korea plants its primary crop, rice, beginning in late May. Since the Norks can barely feed themselves beyond a starvation diet, the entire military participates in the planting effort.

Some 40 percent of the populace serve in some military, paramilitary, or defense-related industry and can be mobilized easily for war, the U.S. Army War College said in a 2007 paper.

“Whether elite military officers or the rank and file, we all had to keep helping farmers, it was part of our daily life and duty as a party organ,” said Choi Joo-hwal, a former veteran military officer with a 27-year career at North Korea’s Ministry of People’s Armed Forces.

Choi was conscripted into a parachute regiment in 1968 when North Korea seized the USS Pueblo, an American Navy intelligence-gathering ship and held its crew hostage.

Even though North Korea declared a state of war at the time, Choi and his elite regiment would spend time with shovels in their hands.

“Every Friday and at the weekends, we went to plant corn, cabbages or to compost an orchard,” Choi said.

Things are much, much worse for the North than they were in 1968. Any strike during the planting season puts the Norks in a conundrum. Either they take the troops out of the fields to assume a military strike posture and hold it for days or weeks, which in August could lead to mass starvation; or they simply bluster with words and do nothing.

Either way, for the Norks, they won’t know what hit them, and the U.S. will send a powerful message to the North should they decide to deploy. That’s because the North Koreans don’t possess a sophisticated enough air defense network to stop our stealth weapons. Geopolitical analysis firm Stratfor, in a recent piece about how we would strike North Korea, broke it down.

With a force of 10 Massive Ordnance Penetrators and 80 900-kilogram GBU-31 JDAMs, the U.S. B-2 bombers alone are more than enough to dismantle or at least severely damage North Korea’s known nuclear production infrastructure, as well as associated nuclear weapons storage sites.

The effectiveness of the B-2 first wave would enable the 24 F-22 fighters — and the wave of 600 or so cruise missiles sharing the skies — to focus on destroying North Korea’s delivery vehicles. A single good hit from a JDAM or cruise missile is enough to knock out the nascent sea-based leg of North Korea’s defensive triad. Hammering the Uiju and Changjin-up air bases, where North Korean H-5 bombers are based, would further reduce Pyongyang’s most likely air delivery force for a nuclear weapon.

The most difficult target to eliminate when it comes to delivery vehicles is the missile forces. North Korea has a fleet of approximately 200 transporter erector launchers (TEL) of varying size and type spread out across the country, so the intelligence picture would have to be very accurate. With enough information, however, the United States still has more than enough firepower in a single strike to severely reduce North Korea’s TEL inventory.

The U.S. maintains at least a dozen F-22s at Kadena airbase in Okinawa, which is well within the aircraft’s strike range with airborne refueling and/or external tanks. The B-2s can launch from anywhere in the world.

Certainly, Kim Jong Un and his military commanders know all this could happen. They just have never believed the U.S. would do it. They’re so used to us doing nothing that a strike would take them totally by surprise. Their reactions can’t be predicted, but one possibility is removing Kim from leadership.

Another possibility is total war, but imagine how troops in the field would feel knowing that Americans can simply kill from the air. Very demoralizing. It could turn out like the Mother of All Battles did for Saddam. Of course, we’re putting millions of South Koreans in harm’s way, but they’re already in harm’s way.

Tillerson got it right. The time for talk is over.

Awkwardness At State Department: WaPo Makes Tillerson Look Incompetent, But How True Is The Report?

It may be the understatement of the year that the Trump administration has been different from anything else we’ve seen. A new report from the Washington Post – if it is to be believed – paints a picture of an awkward culture at the State Department.

On many days, he blocks out several hours on his schedule as “reading time,” when he is cloistered in his office poring over the memos he prefers ahead of in-person meetings.

Most of his interactions are with an insular circle of political aides who are new to the State Department. Many career diplomats say they still have not met him, and some have been instructed not to speak to him directly — or even make eye contact.

The report goes on to detail handwringing from Democrats and anonymous sources that Tillerson and his inner circle are working to minimize the State Department’s role in government.

Current and recently departed State Department officials — all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer candid assessments of what one called the “benching” of the oldest Cabinet department — said Tillerson is paying a price.

The trouble with this report is that, the more you dig, the more fishy it smells. AP Diplomatic Writer Matt Lee dismissed the no-eye-contact assertion altogether on Twitter:

Over at National Review, Jim Geraghty classified the report as unfair and cited scuttlebutt that paints quite a different picture:

I heard through the grapevine that Tillerson has held at least one getting-to-know-you meeting with career foreign service employees and that the event went well. Of course, not everyone’s going to instantly bond over one casual meeting with snacks, but in the eyes of the people I heard from, he was making an effort, and they appreciated it.

Geraghty goes on to call out the WaPo‘s sources, noting that they’re not exactly predisposed to compliment Tillerson:

So we’ve got one Congressional Democrat, one Senate Democratic aide, one foreign diplomat, one current official, and what is likely two former State employees who worked under Kerry or Clinton. Somehow it is less than stunning that they would be critical of Tillerson.

Geraghty admits that Tillerson has made some missteps and acknowledges that things aren’t as smooth as they could be yet but that the department isn’t exactly in the shape that the Post‘s hit piece suggests.

Look, Rex Tillerson may have an introverted streak – and I certainly don’t fault him for it. Nor do I fault him for the mistakes his department has made to date, as long as he and the rest of his team can make the right corrections.

Trump’s Confusing Behavior Toward NATO

On Tuesday night the White House confirmed that President Trump will attend May’s NATO summit, which is set to take place in Brussels.

Trump will participate in the meetings on May 25, press secretary Sean Spicer said in a statement, adding that the president “looks forward to meeting with his NATO counterparts to reaffirm our strong commitment to NATO, and to discuss issues critical to the alliance, especially allied responsibility-sharing and NATO’s role in the fight against terrorism.”

Spicer also said that Trump will welcome NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to the White House on April 12 to “talk about how to strengthen the alliance to cope with challenges to national and international security.”

The announcement, which follows NATO’s announcement last month that Trump was set to attend, eases the worries of some who had expressed concern over Trump’s commitment to NATO.

During the campaign, Trump declared NATO “obsolete” and made other statements that suggested he wanted to reassess the United States’ participation in the organization.

His more recent statements seem to have allayed some of the fears that he might back off from NATO, while other statements still raise red flags. For instance, he voiced his “strong support” for NATO during a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier this month, while at the same time repeating some of his concerns that some of the organization’s members do not pay their fair share in dues.

On Monday, the White House announced that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is skipping this month’s meeting of NATO foreign ministers in order to take part in a meeting between Trump and China’s president the same week. What’s more, Tillerson is planning a tête-à-tête with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a notorious critic of NATO, in April.

What do we make of Trump’s confusing, seemingly schizophrenic actions and statements toward NATO? It’s tough to discern any pattern to this behavior at all, so I suppose time will tell.

This Is Not Iran: North Korea Doubles Enrichment Capability

Someone is going to have to deal with North Korea. The hermit kingdom is no longer just a pain in the world’s rear end, but is legitimately a dangerous threat to world stability. Now the IAEA is reporting that the Norks have doubled the size of their nuclear enrichment facility.

From the WSJ:

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Monday, Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, described North Korea as rapidly advancing its capacity to produce nuclear weapons on two fronts: the production of plutonium at its Yongbyon nuclear facility and the enrichment of uranium.

As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson remarked, “the policy of strategic patience has ended.” The soft approach with North Korea has failed, and is unlikely to work in the future.

“This is a highly political issue. A political agreement is essential,” Mr. Amano said, but added. “We can’t be optimistic. The situation is very bad. We don’t have the reason to be optimistic.”

In case political doves who think world peace is a matter of soft discussion and appeasement want to compare North Korea with Iran, Armano dispels such ideas. “The situation is very different,” he said. “Easy comparisons should be avoided.”

Very different.

First, North Korea is already a nuclear-capable rogue state. Iran is not (yet) nuclear capable. We can thank American and Israeli efforts for that.

Second, Iran, as much as we’ve tried to isolate it financially and diplomatically, is part of the international community. Iranians travel–generally–freely from and to Iran. Iran has a relatively well-educated, literate working class, and a burgeoning intellectual population. Iran is a fairly advanced country in culture and technology. Yes, they’re run by a cabal of Islamic extremists who regularly encourage “death to America!” chants, but that isn’t the whole country.

North Korea, on the other hand, is a destitute backwater steeped in worship of its own leaders as gods. There’s no working class, only an army, a peasantry, and a starving class. Oh, and a small ruling class who have to worry if they’ll be shot (or be poisoned with VX) because they say the wrong thing about Kim Jong Un.

To make the comparison visual, look at both countries at night from space.

That little dot on the left is Pyongyang. The rest of the country is blacked out. Iran, on the other hand, enjoys electricity.

We can reason with and influence Iran to some extent. Of course, we didn’t have to give away the whole store like former President Obama and his henchman John Kerry did. But sanctions were in fact working, preventing Iran from “breakout.” Now it’s just a matter of time unless President Trump undoes the damage.

North Korea is a whole different ballgame. There’s nobody to reason with. The entire country is one giant prison camp and indoctrination center. There’s no communication in or out unless it’s underground. Whole families are punished if one member is found with contraband. The North makes money by selling coal and iron ore to China, which has restricted that trade after the country’s last nuclear tests.

They also make money by counterfeiting U.S. currency. Every time the U.S. Treasury changes up the $100 bill, North Korean fakes disappear for a while, then come back. If there were a better definition of a rogue, criminal state, I don’t know it.

The only way to deal with North Korea is to threaten the life, safety, and future rule of its leaders. They are willing to sacrifice any number of their citizens to complete their quest for nuclear weapons and delivery systems.

The IAEA’s chief wouldn’t speculate on how many atomic bombs the agency believes North Korea has amassed in its weapons arsenal. U.S. and Chinese officials, citing the dual plutonium and uranium infrastructure, believe it can be as high as 40.

“The situation is very bad…It has gone into a new phase,” Mr. Amano said about North Korea’s overall program. “All of the indications point to the fact that North Korea is making progress, as they declared.”

The Norks cannot be allowed to have 40 nuclear weapons and ICBMs. There’s no good outcome to that. China knows it, Japan knows it, and South Korea knows it best of all.

If Tillerson believes that military strikes are necessary to deal with the north, then he may be right. He’s even taken the extraordinary step of skipping out on the upcoming NATO foreign ministers’ meeting to stay in Washington for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit. North Korea will certainly be on the agenda.

After years of playing and letting the Norks have their way, now is probably the last opportunity to stop them. It’s certainly high time someone did.

Tillerson on North Korea: ‘Nothing is Off the Table’

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in South Korea and his comments are shaking up the diplomatic status quo on the Korean peninsula. Tillerson, who said earlier that the past 20 years of diplomacy was a “failed approach,” is signaling that a new approach is at hand.

“Let me be very clear — the policy of strategic patience has ended,” the Secretary of State said. “We are exploring a new range of security and diplomatic measures. All options are on the table.”

Tillerson noted that the US has provided North Korea with $1.3 billion in economic aid since the Clinton Administration. “In return North Korea has detonated nuclear weapons and dramatically increased its launches of ballistic missiles to threaten America and our allies,” he said.

In an interview with Fox News, Tillerson said, “Nothing has been taken off the table” when asked about President Trump’s comments during the campaign that proliferation of nuclear weapons in East Asia might be a suitable counter to North Korean weapons programs. Japan has resisted developing nuclear weapons since World War II.

Tillerson was also asked about the possibility of military action against the North. “If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action, that option is on the table,” Tillerson replied to NBC News.

“Certainly we do not want for things to get to a military conflict,” he continued. “But obviously if North Korea takes actions that threaten the South Korean forces or our own forces then that would be met with an appropriate response.”

“We have many, many steps we can take before we get to” military action and “we hope that that will persuade North Korea to take a different course of action. That’s our desire.” Tillerson added.

In a St. Patrick’s Day tweet, President Trump signaled his support for Tillerson’s shift in policy, saying, “North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been ‘playing’ the United States for years. China has done little to help!”

North Korea has tested nuclear weapons and missiles with increasingly long ranges over the past two decades. In January, the hermit kingdom threatened to test an intercontinental ballistic missile that could target cities in the contiguous United States. In February, North Korean agents were implicated in the assassination of Kim Jong Un’s half-brother in a Malaysian airport with VX nerve agent.

“Today, North Korea not only threatens its regional neighbors but the United States and other countries,” Tillerson said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The White House Explores Cutting Funding To The United Nations, And – You Guessed It – The Left Is Freaking Out!

The Trump administration is preparing its budget proposal, and word is that State Department staffers have received warnings that the White House is looking at cutting up to 50 percent of the $10 billion a year in funding that the United States provides to the United Nations.

Just mentioning cutting UN funding get the Left to freaking out, as Colum Lynch over at Foreign Policy demonstrates. Read the breathlessness of some of his article on the cuts:

State Department staffers have been instructed to seek cuts in excess of 50 percent in U.S. funding for U.N. programs, signaling an unprecedented retreat by President Donald Trump’s administration from international operations that keep the peace, provide vaccines for children, monitor rogue nuclear weapons programs, and promote peace talks from Syria to Yemen, according to three sources.

The push for such draconian measures comes as the White House is scheduled on Thursday to release its 2018 budget proposal, which is expected to include cuts of up to 37 percent for spending on the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and other foreign assistance programs, including the U.N., in next year’s budget.

It remains unclear whether the full extent of the steeper U.N. cuts will be reflected in the 2018 budget, which will be prepared by the White House Office of Management and Budget, or whether, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has proposed, the cuts would be phased in over the coming three years. One official close to the Trump administration said Tillerson has been given flexibility to decide how the cuts would be distributed.

Lynch continues his sky-is-falling quoting experts who lament that such “strong and disproportionate cuts” will “create ‘chaos.'” Apparently high on the list of areas ripe for cutting are UN services that offer “family planning” (read: abortions) and pro-Palestinian organizations.

Lynch even quotes a Heritage Foundation analyst who admits that 50-percent cuts to UN funding would be difficult, but the vast majority of the article’s analysis comes from a left-leaning perspective, including a dire warning against cutting funding from – big surprise – a former Obama administration staffer.

The fact of the matter is, drastic cuts to our United Nations funding face a tough road ahead in Congress – and even Lynch takes a breath long enough to admit it. Even if the cuts make it into the finished budget and Tillerson has the latitude to determine how the administration implements them, they’ll likely be more gradual than the worst fears. But that won’t stop the Left from freaking out over them, that’s for sure.

It Doesn’t Betray Conservatism To Praise the President

Tevya implored God in “Fiddler on the Roof,” As the Good Book says, “Heal us, O Lord, and we shall be healed.” In other words, send us the cure. We’ve got the sickness already.

There’s scarcely been a more divisive president, to the country, and to the party which he purports to represent than Donald J. Trump. The man won the Republican primaries with around 40 percent of his own party’s aggregated pre-clinch votes, and lost most caucuses except Nevada, Kentucky and Hawaii. He faced rebellion at his own nominating convention. Most of his own party’s pundits and fellow candidates who conceded believed he would be crushed in November.

The #NeverTrump movement led the charge to keep Trump out of office. This was based on the proposition that Trump was unqualified for the job of POTUS.

President Trump is the same man as candidate Trump. If he was manifestly unqualified for office then, it would follow that he is now. That would mean we have an unqualified man running our country, with which most of the free world (and likely the kleptocratic world of dictators) agrees.

Conservatives, as much as liberals and most Americans, would rather have a qualified person running the government than an unqualified one. And Trump won–though he didn’t win a majority of the popular vote, he did win the race, such as the Constitution provides for winning. He also wasn’t crushed at the polls. Most of the differences people seem to have had about Trump revolved around his policies, with his fitness for office a lesser concern overall.

In other words, most people who voted against Trump, did so because they didn’t like what he would do, not that they thought he was unqualified to do it, although many claimed both. Those who voted for him, either voted for him despite their doubts of his qualifications, or believed he is qualified.

When the results rolled in, most #NeverTrump conservatives admitted we were wrong about Trump’s electability. Therefore, we might have also been wrong about his fitness for office, or at least the importance attached to that issue by Americans.

Very little “new” information is left to be known about President Trump. His tax returns and some leases we won’t see, or discovery on certain lawsuits now settled won’t change anyone’s mind. “New” supposedly-damaging videos (such as the one Shaun King tweeted) contradicting Trump’s claim that he doesn’t know Putin, only serve to reinforce bias against Trump (by the way, it’s not new). Whatever isn’t known about Trump has already been imagined in the worst light by his opponents, and dismissed by his supporters.

As president, Trump hasn’t done a half-bad job being conservative. If any other Republican in the White House did (the positive parts) what he did in one week, we’d all be enjoying champagne and strawberries in the hot tub, toasting success.

Unfortunately, we have to put up with severe intestinal Trumpiness as the price of our success. This means suffering cramps from bouts of protectionism, narcissistic pursuit of large crowds, self-worship, and basking in the delight of putting down opponents for real or imagined slights. The acute irritable bowel symptoms of Trump’s tweets and prevarications may or may not become chronic.

Tevya implored God in “Fiddler on the Roof,” As the Good Book says, “Heal us, O Lord, and we shall be healed.” In other words, send us the cure. We’ve got the sickness already.

Trump may be the cure, and he may be more of the sickness. But right now, there’s enough cure for conservatives to be hopeful. Bashing Trump over the things we knew he’d do–the tweets and bombast and vanity–is counterproductive. Plus, the liberal press spends an inordinate amount of time doing that already. Our distinctive voice would be lost in the din of their megaphones.

Where conservatives have a chance to be heard is in the places where decision-makers dwell. The Republican retreat in Philadelphia floated some troubling ideas of what should become of Obamacare. We have an opportunity to influence Trump and his administration, along with congressional leadership on the issue. If we fail, then 2018 could be very, very bad for our cause and our party.

This is why we must praise Trump when he does right by conservatives. Trump listens. Where former President Obama (I love writing “former”) was convinced he was right about everything and could not be argued with, Trump can be influenced. As long as he gets credit for what goes right and can blame others for what goes wrong, he is all ears.

Rex Tillerson was singular evidence of Trump’s ability to listen and change course. Now, on torture, Trump has backed off his own opinion in favor of Secretary of State James Mattis’ differing view.

My greatest hope for a Trump presidency is that he would grow in office. That the weight of the presidency would birth in him a seed of statesmanship. There are signs this could happen. But if all conservatives do is bash Trump for who the man became over 70 years of his life, that leaves very little room for him to hear calls for positive change.

We know who Trump is. It took him decades to become this way. He will not change overnight into something he isn’t (read: presidential). We owe it to our country to give him a chance to grow, and that means sometimes overlooking things that cause our eyes to roll and our palms to sweat. We won’t give him a hall pass for those things, but the main stream media will ensure the country hears about every single one.

Conservatives have only one path right now, and it goes through Trump. Either we will see some gains going into 2018, or we will suffer what the Democrats saw in 2010. Praising Trump when he does well doesn’t betray our principles. It may be the only way to preserve them.