President Donald Trump addressed the Syrian chemical weapons attack by delivering an incoherent foreign policy plan that failed to address what the United States should do about the ongoing conflict in Syria.
Standing beside King Abdullah II of Jordan for a joint press conference on Wednesday, Trump said that the deaths of hundreds of people in Syria, particularly of “beautiful little babies” was an “affront to humanity.” A reporter asked whether Trump bears any responsibility as president, but Trump placed the blame squarely on his predecessor, President Barack Obama (D).
“I think the Obama administration had a great responsibility to solve the crisis a long time ago, when he said the red line in the sand,” Trump said to a group of reporters in the Rose Garden, claiming that Obama’s inaction on Syria “set us back a long ways” because “it was a blank threat.”
Trump blames Obama for not taking U.S. action in Syria (U.S. action that Trump strongly opposed); says new attack crossed “many, many lines” pic.twitter.com/fHLeJ32vTj
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) April 5, 2017
While there may be some validity to the claim about Obama’s inaction on Syria, Trump still had no suggestions on what the United States should do to prevent such future attacks.
Tuesday’s suspected chemical bombing in a northern rebel-held area of Syria on Tuesday morning killed or wounded hundreds of people, who were believed to have breathed in poison that contained a nerve agent or chemical that causes victims to gasp or foam at the mouth. The Trump administration has since criticized Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and its allies Russia and Iran.
Trump gave no policy recommendations in the press conference on what to do about Assad. As the New York Times reported, “only the Syrian military had the ability and the motive to carry out an aerial attack like the one that struck the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun.” Last week, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley both expressed that removing Assad would no longer be a priority for the United States.
When pressed by reporters for his plans to defeat ISIS — a campaign promise he repeatedly made — Trump also gave no definitive answer, but he claimed that it would be a “shorter fight than a lot of people are thinking about, believe me.” He also said that he would “protect civilization.”
Trump said that his attitude towards Syria and Assad “has changed very much” during the press conference, but he did not directly condemn the dictator. He also did not mention Russia, which has allied with Assad, and aligned with his previous position to work more closely with Russia.
The president failed to say what kind of military plan he would have in response to Syria and instead suggested that talking about any kind of policy initiative could make it more difficult to fight in the country as had the U.S.-led coalition attacks in Mosul, Iraq.
“Well, one of the things I think you’ve noticed about me is militarily, I don’t like to say where I’m going and what I’m doing,” Trump said. “I watched Mosul where the past administration was saying, ‘we will be attacking in four months.’ And I said, ‘why are you doing that?’ Then a month goes by. And they say we will be attacking in three months. And then two months. And then we will be attacking next week. And I’m saying, ‘why are they doing that?’ As you know, Mosul turned out to be a much harder fight than anyone thought. And a lot of people have been lost in that fight. I’m not saying I’m doing anything one way or the other. But I’m certainly not going to be telling you as much as I respect you.”
He made the same naive claim about the need for an element of surprise in in Mosul, and in the fight against ISIS, on the campaign trail.
Although Trump said that Obama handed him a “mess” and should have acted on Syria, the 45th president has repeatedly urged his predecessor not to “attack Syria.”
President Obama, do not attack Syria. There is no upside and tremendous downside. Save your "powder" for another (and more important) day!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 7, 2013
Trump hasn’t been the only official who’s been hesitant to criticize Assad. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson condemned the Syrian chemical attack on Tuesday, but has yet to offer guidance to help prevent another horrific chemical attack. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley criticized the attack a day later, lamenting “how many more children have to die before Russia cares?” during a UN Security Council meeting where U.S. representatives and its allies circulated a draft resolution condemning the use of chemical weapons within Syria.