Syria Testing Trump

Syrian chemical attacks pose a tough test for Trump

The White House condemned the suspected government-backed assault, but hasn’t changed its position on leaving Assad in power.


Trump may face new pressure after Syria chemical weapons attack

In a statement, President Donald Trump condemned the attack, but also blamed the Obama administration. “Today’s chemical attack in Syria against innocent people including women and children is reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilized world,” Trump said. “These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration’s weakness and irresolution. . . . President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a ‘red line’ against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing.”

But in 2013, Trump tweeted on at least four occasions that the U.S. should not strike Syria over “red line” violations, calling Obama’s 2012 statement “dumb” and a potential U.S. attack a “stupid move.”

In 2013, Trump repeatedly tweeted at Obama not to attack in Syria. Here’s one example. 

Trump’s statement today blames Obama for not acting after his red line. But at least 4 times, Trump tweeted at Obama not to attack in Syria.

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In recent days, the Trump administration has stepped back from Obama-era demands that Assad be removed from power in favor of refocusing its efforts in Syria against the Islamic State, a move some fear may have emboldened Assad.

“The Trump administration had hoped to defer or even ignore the Assad issue,” Frederic Hof, a former Obama administration adviser on Syria currently at the Atlantic Council think tank, told the Wall Street Journal. “Assad — already conditioned by over four years of Obama administration weakness — may have taken recent administration statements about not focusing on him as a green light by new management to do as he wished to civilians in rebel-occupied areas.”

In comments last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the “longer-term status of President (Bashar) Assad will be decided by the Syrian people,” and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said “our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), lashed out at Trump’s policy on Syria. “It is another disgraceful chapter in American history and it was predictable,” he told CNN on Tuesday. In a later statement, McCain said: “Assad believes he can commit war crimes with impunity. The question that confronts the United States now is whether we will take any action to disabuse him of this murderous notion.”

Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) told CNN that Assad was probably testing Trump, and said the U.S. needs to react appropriately.

“We can’t let them cross this line without having consequences,” Kennedy said.


President-elect Donald Trump’s widely reported “bromance” with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as the foreign-policy skills of his tentative, generals-rich cabinet, are set to be tested the moment the new administration assumes power.

Trump’s lack of experience navigating international politics was on full display earlier this month when he spoke on the phone with Taiwan’s president, violating a Washington policy that dates back several decades and infuriating China. Luckily, for all the complexities of the East Asian arena, there is no shooting war there at present. He and his similarly untested team will face far more convoluted and dangerous choices in the Syrian civil war, a festering conflict that has already drawn in just about every regional and global power and destabilized a number of key US allies.

Syrian government forces, backed by Russia and Iran, are in the final phase of rolling over Aleppo, which was the most significant urban stronghold of the rebels. Not only the eventual fate of the US-supported insurgency is on the line, but also Europe’s cohesion in the face of the worst refugee crisis in almost a century.

This leaves Turkey, embroiled in its own spiral of chaos, authoritarianism, and anti-Western sentiments, with a golden if precarious opportunity to play arbiter over both issues. In doing so, analysts say, it is likely to step on the toes of either Russia, the US, or both.

This summer Turkey sent a force, composed of both its own soldiers and allied Syrian militants, to occupy a chunk of neighboring northern Syria in an operation it dubbed Euphrates Shield. It’s a challenging area, riddled with different militant groups and swept by chaotic battles, but the Turks, who boast NATO’s second-largest army, appear determined to stay.

McCain calls White House policy on Syria ‘disgraceful chapter’ in US history

These are war crimes on the scale, almost unmatched since Nazi Germany or Pol Pot,’ McCain says.

The response by President Donald Trump’s administration to the ongoing civil war in Syria, marked most recently by an apparent chemical weapons attack in a rebel-controlled region, “is another disgraceful chapter in American history,” Sen. John McCain said Tuesday morning.

At least 58 people, including children, were killed Tuesday by what appeared to be a chemical attack delivered via airstrike in the northern Syria city of Khan Sheikhoun, according to a Washington Post report. Images and videos from the attack’s aftermath showed victims choking and foaming at the mouth. One video, according to the New York Times, showed a victim with constricted pupils, a symptom consistent with the use of a nerve agent or other chemical weapons.

Donald Trump blames Barack Obama for Syria ‘chemical weapons’ attack

US President says the attack was the work of the regime of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, but says it came as a result of his predecessor’s inaction

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