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Trump’s tough talk on Russia lasted 41 minutes

President Trump's tweets on Russia are incredibly confused.

President Trump welcomes the 2017 NCAA Football National Champion Alabama Crimson Tide to the South Lawn of the White House on Tuesday, April 10, 2018. CREDIT: Cheriss May/NurPhoto/Getty Images.
President Trump welcomes the 2017 NCAA Football National Champion Alabama Crimson Tide to the South Lawn of the White House on Tuesday, April 10, 2018. CREDIT: Cheriss May/NurPhoto/Getty Images.

President Donald Trump’s early morning tweets on Wednesday have created even more confusion around his strategy in Syria as well as policy on Russia.

First, he threatened Russia, which is supporting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, where a deadly gas attack over the weekend left dozens of civilians dead.

This, so far, has been the president’s only public statement on how he plans to respond the attack. He said on Monday that he’d make a decision on to proceed within 48 hours. He even cancelled a trip to summit in Lima, Peru scheduled for this weekend because he said he’d be busy with Syria.

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But 40 minutes after he told Russia to “get ready” for missiles to rain down in Syria, he called for improved relations with Russia and seemed to ask for and end to the arms race:

President Trump policy on Syria has been wildly inconsistent. In April 2017, in response to another chemical attack in Syria, he ordered a strike on an airbase there.

Three months later, he stopped a CIA program arming anti-Assad rebels. He also did not respond to the chemical attacks that have taken place in the past year, until this last one in Douma over the weekend.

But Trump’s strategy has been especially confused in recent weeks.

He blindsided the Pentagon and the State Department when he told the audience at a campaign rally in Ohio on March 30 that U.S. troops would be leaving Syria “very soon.”

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After a tense meeting with his generals, it was reported — though not publicly articulated — that U.S. troops, around 2,000, would remain in Syria for maybe six months.

It’s unclear how the pullout can be executed without risking losing territory back to the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS) or giving Assad allies, Russia, and Iran carte blanche on operating there. Russia on Tuesday blocked a U.N. resolution on Syria, seeking access to Douma for an investigation.

Trump’s other tweets on Wednesday morning focused on his favorite targets: the media’s reporting on the Justice Department investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election as well as the investigation itself.

Since taking office, President Trump has also threatened Venezuela and North Korea with military action, which have not yet materialized. But his new National Security Advisor John Bolton is a bit of an X-factor in this equation.

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While Bolton has called the war in Syria a “sideshow,” he is notoriously hawkish on Iran, and might be keen on engaging with Iran’s forces there, writing in 2016, “[T]he road to Damascus runs through Tehran. Our attention should be on regime change in Iran first. Only when the ayatollahs are swept aside is there even a glimmer of a chance for Middle East peace and security.”