During Wednesday’s White House news briefing, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders attempted to explain a cryptic tweet Trump posted earlier in the day warning Russia about impending airstrikes in Syria.
Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 11, 2018
Trump’s tweet represents a complete reversal from what he was saying during the Obama years, when he relentlessly attacked the president for not being more unpredictable with his military moves. Within an hour of posting it, Trump seemed to walk it back, indicating in another tweet that he still hopes to have warmer relations with Putin.
During Wednesday’s briefing, a reporter asked Sanders to clarify what exactly Trump meant.
“What does ‘get ready Russia’ mean? Is the United States planning to target Russian assets or personnel in Syria as part of the attack that the president himself has said is coming?” a reporter said. “What does it mean?”
Sanders tried to dodge the question by saying a bunch of words that mean nothing.
“We are maintaining that we have a number of options, and all of those options are still on the table,” she said. “The final decision hasn’t been made on that front.”
A bit later, another reporter pressed Sanders to be more specific, noting that while she may want people to believe Trump has left an array of options on the table, “when the president says ‘the missiles are coming,’ how is that anything but an announcement of a pending airstrike?”
Sanders’ response seemed to confirm that Trump’s tweet should indeed be interpreted as indicating that airstrikes are imminent.
“That’s certainly one option, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only option or the only thing that the president may or may not do,” she said. “Just because he does one thing doesn’t mean he can’t do a number of other actions as well, and he certainly hasn’t laid out the timetable which would, ah, be broadcasting his intentions.”
On Monday, Trump told reporters that “[w]e will be making some major decisions” about airstrikes in Syria “in the next 24 to 48 hours.” Wednesday’s press briefing came just a couple hours shy of that timeframe passing.
At another point during the briefing, Sanders indicated the White House hasn’t ruled out “direct military engagement” with Russia. She refused to answer a separate question about whether there’s anything Syria can still do to prevent a military strike from occurring.