A week ago the Trump Administration sent a strong signal that it was changing a core Obama policy in regards to Syria. No longer would America regard the removal of Syrian despot Assad a priority. Last Thursday, on March 30th, former Exxon CEO, and now hopelessly naive novice head diplomat for the United States, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared “the longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.” At roughly the same time Nikki Haley, the (sarcasm alert) extensively experienced in foreign policy (by virtue of being Governor of South Carolina), U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations told reporters:
“You pick and choose your battles and when we’re looking at this, it’s about changing up priorities and our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out. Do we think he’s a hindrance? Yes. Are we going to sit there and focus on getting him out? No.”
Just in case those messages were too subtle in communicating to Assad new American approval for his continued rule, the next day White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer made clear that the defeat of ISIS, and not the removal of Assad, was America’s concern in Syria:
“With respect to Assad, there is a political reality that we have to accept.” The United States has profound priorities in Syria and Iraq, and we’ve made it clear that counterterrorism, particularly the defeat of ISIS, is foremost among those priorities.”
The Trump Administration tilted in favor of Assad, or at least against the Obama Administration policy of opposing his regime. Only a few days later an emboldened Assad, quite obviously feeling his oats, launched a deadly Sarin attack against his own people using the deadly nerve agent to kill scores of people including numerous women and children.
At least two Republican Senators noted this timing was not coincidental. Senator Marco Rubio bluntly stated “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a few days later we see this” after Tillerson’s comments “nodding to the idea that Assad was gonna get to stay in some capacity.” Senator John McCain said:
“Bashar Assad and his friends, the Russians, take note of what Americans say. I’m sure they took note of what our secretary of state said just the other day . . . I’m sure they’re encouraged to know that the United States is withdrawing and seeking some kind of new arrangement with the Russians. It is another disgraceful chapter in American history and it was predictable.”
The statements last week by Tillerson, Haley, and Spicer opening the door for Assad’s chemical attack were part of long history of Donald Trump opposing any action to oust the Syrian despot. While Trump now blames Obama for not enforcing his “red line” against prior use by Assad of chemical weapons, here is what Trump said in 2013 about enforcing that red line:
This was but one of an incredible array of tweets where Trump urged Obama to leave Syria alone. Hands off Syria was a central part of his campaign theme. Quite clearly, as Senator McCain suggested, Assad was listening.
Of course now Trump says that as a result of this horrific attack his “attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.” He ignores the role of his own administration in changing Assad’s attitude towards using chemical weapons against the Syrian people. Trump has provided no explanation as to why equally heinous acts by Assad during the Obama Administration did not change his mind then.
Trump belatedly declared yesterday that “I now have responsibility” for Syria. Actually, Mister-Faking-Your-Way-Through-the-Presidency, that responsibility started they day you were inaugurated. That responsibility included your administration last week sending the message to Assad that you were effectively on his side. A message he heard loud and clear. You are responsible for that.
An amateur in foreign policy heads an administration of amateurs in foreign policy. The foreign policy bumbling of this President, and his Administration, has gone beyond embarrassing tweets and awkward meetings with other heads of state. The clowns running this show have blundered into encouraging the use of chemical weapons against women and children. The blood of those victims, at least partially, stains the hands of the United States.
The clowns running this show are not funny anymore.