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Trump’s Confused Syria Views

Far from demonstrating any consistent interest in realpolitik, this shows how incoherent and changeable Trump's views on most issues really are
syria plane rocket

Trump issued a bizarre statement in response to the chemical weapons attack in Syria:

Mr. Trump’s statement on Tuesday called the Syria chemical attack “reprehensible” and “intolerable,” but blamed Mr. Obama as much as Mr. Assad. “These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration’s weakness and irresolution,” he said. “President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a ‘red line’ against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing.”

The statement overlooked the fact that Mr. Trump himself urged Mr. Obama not to strike Syria when Mr. Assad crossed that red line. “President Obama, do not attack Syria,” Mr. Trump posted on Twitter at the time. “There is no upside and tremendous downside. Save your ‘powder’ for another (and more important) day!”

The implication of Trump’s new statement is that Obama was wrong not to bomb Syria in 2013, but on the substance it’s impossible to square that with Trump’s own opposition to the proposed intervention at the time. What we see here is that Trump’s foreign policy positioning now and in the recent past has depended almost entirely on taking the opposite of whatever position he thinks Obama is taking. He is against the nuclear deal and New START because they were agreements that Obama made, and he was for overthrowing Gaddafi when he thought that Obama wouldn’t and then transformed into a critic of the Libyan war when Obama ordered intervention. Similarly, when it looked like Obama was going to order the bombing of Syrian government forces in 2013 he was opposed, and then after Obama chose not to bomb he switched to criticizing Obama for his “irresolution.”

Far from demonstrating any consistent interest in realpolitik, this shows how incoherent and changeable Trump’s views on most issues really are. Practically the only thing that unites all of his different views is that they are driven by reflexive hostility to anything associated with Obama, and so at this point I would half-expect Trump to order an attack on Assad’s forces just because it is the thing Obama didn’t do.

As it happens, Trump was right to oppose bombing the Syrian government in 2013, and it would be a bigger, more dangerous mistake to bomb their forces now. Attacking Syrian forces would not only mean a further expansion of U.S. military involvement in Syria, but would risk conflict with both Russia and Iran. It would expose U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria to attack from Iran and its proxies, and it would significantly increase tensions with Moscow. No U.S. interests would be secured or advanced by doing this.

Unfortunately, Trump has created a rhetorical trap for himself much as Obama did when he first made the ill-advised “red line” remark. Because he chose to fault his predecessor for “weakness and irresolution” because Obama didn’t take military action under similar circumstances, Trump has made it politically more difficult for himself to refrain from ordering military action without having his words thrown back in his face. While Trump may have seen this horrible attack as an opportunity for point-scoring against the previous president, he has foolishly boxed himself in with the same sort of careless rhetoric that Obama often used.



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