For a man ostensibly so contemptuous of elite opinion, a fascinating characteristic of Donald Trump’s so-far disastrous presidency has been his almost blatant craving for the approval of the mainstream media, and his fury when it has been withheld from him. Now, he has it — most of the US media gushed over his missile strike on a Syrian airbase in a response to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons, despite its lack of any legal authority. You might be forgiven for thinking the American establishment reflexively loves illegal US military attacks on Middle Eastern countries.

Earnest commentators are also discussing the possibility of clashes between the US and Russia, which is very helpful in sidelining that nasty business about Trump’s deep and widespread links with the Putin regime and its assistance in helping him get elected.

[What Donald Trump learned from Australian border policy]

That the attack on Syria was motivated entirely by Trump’s desire for establishment approval despite his posture as a kind of uber-outsider isn’t the least plausible explanation — there’s also the one that Vladimir Putin got Bashar al-Assad to conduct a chemical attack so that Tump could look strong in response and demonstrate he wasn’t Putin’s puppet. The problem is, it’s difficult to find more plausible explanations, because if there is one faintly consistent theme to Trump’s “foreign policy” musings, it’s an isolationist objection to intervention in other parts of the globe — as demonstrated by all those Trump tweets gleefully recycled on the weekend criticising Barack Obama for contemplating an attack on Assad. Such is the extent of Trump’s backflip that avowed supporters have abandoned him, disillusioned that a man who derided the US involvement in Iraq and pledged American first is launching missiles into the Middle East just weeks into his presidency.

Adding to the appeal is the purported contrast between Obama, who failed to take action when Assad last used chemical weapons, and Trump, who responded almost instantly. In fact this is too kind to Obama: far from being a dithering non-interventionist in Syria, Obama implemented a massive and extraordinarily expensive intervention in which more than 10,000 anti-Assad rebels were trained, aimed at removing Assad or forcing him to negotiate. In contrast, Trump’s missile attack had the look of theatre: the Russians were given plenty of time to get out of the way (and tell Assad’s forces) and the airbase was up and running within hours — in fact, Trump acknowledged the missile strikes didn’t even damage the base runway. Assad will be able to go on doing what he has been doing for many years now — indiscriminately slaughtering his Sunni Muslim civilian citizens at a rate far, far higher than the forces opposed to him, including Islamic State, kill anyone.

[You won’t bring down Donald Trump with angry signs and funny memes]

Moreover, despite the attack, there’s allegedly been no change in the administration’s position regarding Syria — at least according to the usually invisible Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — which is that the US is no longer interested in regime change and the removal of Assad. The attack was a “one-off“, according to one source. Except, according to one of Tillerson’s underlings, regime change is now the second priority in Syria behind defeating Islamic State — which was essentially the Obama administration’s position.

Old Trump at odds with current Trump. Different players within the administration saying radically different things. All in all, it’s Trump’s apparently preferred MO of having conflicting and competing factions within his own administration pushing different policies, all of which Trump himself has at some point agreed with or disagreed with, now applied to foreign policy.

But having got the domestic sugar hit of media love from launching missiles, Trump would be unlikely to turn his back on doing it again. Presumably with the Russians given plenty of notice.