There's lots of confusion among Trump supporters about what the meaning is of the administration's greater moves toward regime change and potential confrontation with Russia. Do we conclude that it's all part of a 4D chess strategy, perhaps involving other players like Putin, and there's nothing to get so worried about? Or do we conclude that it's the straightforward scenario of heightened conflict in the M.E. and/or Russia?
I've already explained why I think Trump truly has not changed his views deep-down -- he has been too consistent and vocal on them from at least 2013 through the early part of this year, on regime change in Syria. Rather, he's being maneuvered into that position by the military faction of the Deep State, who can credibly threaten to weaken their military support for his authority, at which point he cannot effectively govern.
(This is unlike his economic and domestic agendas, where our enemies have nothing to threaten us with.)
Still, it's a hypothesis, and so is the opposite view. How do we decide which case to believe in?
Beliefs are not important in the real world, it is how we behave that matters. So do we behave as though it's a 4D chess strategy, or as though it's as things appear?
This choice boils down to what are the consequences for choosing to behave as though one scenario or the other were true, weighted by how likely they are to be true.
The straightforward scenario should receive a higher probability of being true -- the whole point of calling something 4D chess or counter-intuitive is that it's less likely to be true, given what we observe.
In the case of Syria and Russia, this should be even lower in likelihood, assuming not only counter-intuitive moves by Trump / US but perhaps also by Putin / Russia, whereby these esoteric moves are acting in harmony when these two sides do not have identical goals, and even divergent goals.
What are the consequences if it's just 4D chess? Nothing much comes of it, no major changes, certainly not ones that negatively impact the American people. We breathe a sigh of relief.
The counter-argument is that the 4D chess move pulls off a victory for the ages, with all our foes vanquished and the American people reaping benefits for generations to come. Obviously that is wishful thinking, and even the "don't worry" crowd are downplaying the upside of the 4D chess view -- at most, we avert serious catastrophe, and the Syrian civil war winds down peacefully for the American side.
What are the consequences if it's as things appear, and we're heading toward armed conflict against Russia in Syria? There is no point in guessing an average, since that would be a fat-tailed event with more or less unbounded negative consequences, up to nuclear war that cripples much of the American economy, infrastructure, military, and citizens' lives. However severe, there would be only downside for the American people.
The counter-argument is that we're missing the upside to war against Russia -- e.g., proving once and for all that the "Trump in bed with Russia" narrative is bogus, winning support of media, Democrat politicians, and other groups who were antithetical to his coalition and will always remain so.
This is a phony upside, and as we're already seeing, the conspiracy theorists and witch hunters will never be satisfied, as every attempt to disprove their narrative only strengthens their convictions. "Ha, Trump only lobbed a few dozen missiles that did minimal damage to that airfield, leaving the runway intact -- just the sort of halfhearted PR stunt that a stooge of the Kremlin would resort to in order to throw us off track." Then if he launches a nuclear strike on Moscow, "Wow, someone is desperate to cover up his being controlled by the Kremlin. Trump only dropped one nuke and did not even flatten the city! Nice try to throw us off track."
The straightforward interpretation that we're heading toward a military escalation against Russia is both more likely and far more serious in its consequences -- so that's the scenario that we behave as though it were true.
To end with, let's contrast how this is unlike the several times when Trump's hardcore supporters freaked out during the campaign that he was changing course. For example, that he was opening up to amnesty for illegals.
First, there are concrete decisions made by the administration that point 180 degrees away from Trump's long-standing and fervent views on the topic. The missile strike itself, the public innuendo that Russia knew about the alleged chemical attack by their Syrian client (making them complicit), and on the Russian side, the termination of the deconfliction channel between the Russian and American militaries in Syria, along with condemnations of the strike.
Trump never made any clear action toward amnesty -- he wasn't even President, so how could he have taken any action one way or another? The paranoids were going off of his rhetoric alone, which itself was simply more ambivalent -- not unambiguously the opposite of what he had promised.
Now that he's taken office, this is the only policy on which he has veered off-course from his promises. He killed the TPP, nominated a SCOTUS justice from his original list, stepped up deportations and border defense, twisted arms of manufacturers into bringing back jobs and plants, and signed two separate executive orders to implement the Muslim ban.
None of these were preceded by 4D chess moves, taking clear steps away from his promises, only to return back to them for the win. Trump is a busy man, and there is so much on the Trump movement's agenda. He doesn't have time for playing games or toying with his supporters -- he's hit the ground running, and launched a totally straightforward full-court press on all of his major issues.
That would seem to rule out an emotional fake-out in the case of war, which was another of his major promises. He would have wanted to hit the ground running on fixing our commitments in the Middle East ASAP. But in this area, he ran into an enemy (military Deep State) that has enough literal forces to push back at least for the moment, though hopefully not for the long-term.