Donald Trump is effectively continuing Barack Obama’s policy on Syria, but you wouldn’t know that from the New York Times‘s breathless coverage of a chemical weapons attack apparently committed by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
Trump’s administration affirmed one week ago, via UN ambassador Nikki Haley, that they weren’t interested in focusing on overthrowing Assad. Then a few days later, the Syrian government reportedly used chemical weapons.
Trump’s initial response was to attack Obama, for not having acted after Assad used chemical weapons in 2013–the same strategy (not overthrowing Assad), incidentally, that Trump often supported on the campaign trail. For while Obama did pay lip service to putting pressure on Assad and did sent scant weapons to anti-Assad rebels, for the most part the U.S. stayed out of Syria. For that, the U.S. was criticized by the likes of the Economist and other elite liberal publications.
Nikki Haley just formalized existing policy and stopped pretending it was anything different. There are many terrorist groups among the Assad opposition, so why should America support a policy that would likely lead to an unstable state in the mold of Libya?
The NY Times ran a news analysis by Peter Baker that begins by asserting “the world recoiled at the televised images of lifeless children in the latest atrocity in Syria’s savage civil war.” For the Times, “the world” consists of American White House correspondents cloistered in the press club in Washington, DC, and Syria is the center of the world.
Anyway: “Where other presidents might have used the moment to call for the departure of Syria’s authoritarian leader, Bashar al-Assad, President Trump’s spokesman dismissed the notion as impractical because it would not happen.”
And why shouldn’t he? It is official U.S. policy not to aggressively push for the overthrow of Assad. As there are terrorists on the ground, and no policy in place to replace Assad, it would be highly dangerous to overthrow him.
Yet, Trump, rhetorically, at least, seems persuaded by media outrage.
In less than 24 hours from his first statement, the president with no spine claimed to have changed his mind about Assad:
“I will tell you that attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me – big impact,” Trump said in the White House Rose Garden. “My attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much … You’re now talking about a whole different level.”
How could a chemical weapons attack cause you to change your mind about Assad? It was known that he used chemical weapons in 2013!
He even claimed the attack crossed a “red line”:
When asked if the chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhun had crossed a red line, Trump said: “It crossed a lot of lines for me. When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, babies, little babies, with a chemical gas that is so lethal – people were shocked to hear what gas it was. That crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line, many, many lines.”
So what the hell is Trump going to do? Will he intervene to uphold what he says is “a red line, many, many lines”? Or will he do nothing and prove his statements about red lines are not worth anything?
Once again, Trump has shown the world they can’t rely on American promises. This is important as Trump confronts North Korea–and China over its position on North Korea. Trump’s administration has suggested it could get tough on North Korea. And North Korea is a country that is really threatening Korea, he U.S., and Japan, besides also keeping 25 million people in a state of complete repression. But if Trump changes his mind daily and does nothing to enforce “red lines,” will China and North Korea take his threats seriously?
Meanwhile, some liberal outlets and journalists have seemed alarmed at Trump’s interventionist-sounding rhetoric on North Korea. Could he start a war by attacking North Korea [in order to try to prevent North Korea from attacking someone in the future]?!!! It is the reverse of the narrative on Syria–that Trump is not doing enough to attack Syria.
This is what happens when no one has a coherent and considered world view.