Media critic

(Ann Telnaes/The Washington Post)

White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Monday articulated his boss’s narcissistic foreign-policy sensibilities. Citing the U.S. strike on a Syrian air base, Spicer said, “the action that we took last week has been widely praised domestically and internationally.” Asked about the danger of getting involved in a Middle East war, Spicer showcased his un-facility with words: “No. 1, the reason that we took action was multifold. No. 1, to stop the proliferation and the deterrence of chemical weapons. When you see mass weapons of destruction being used, it should be a concern to every nation, especially our own people. The proliferation of those weapons pose a grave threat to our national security.”

Bolding added to highlight a new acronym for international relations: “MWD.”

Armed with that innovation, Spicer continued with his lecture on security policy. “With respect to the people of Syria, by us taking action and de-escalating what’s going on in Syria — that’s the greatest thing you can do to support those people,” said the White House press secretary. “De-escalating the conflict there, containing ISIS is the greatest aspect of humanitarian relief we can provide first and foremost.”

Later came a question about removing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Spicer continued with the theme: “As you reduce ISIS’s strength, as you de-escalate the conflict in Syria, the political environment to remove him becomes stronger and stronger.”

Kristen Welker of NBC News pressed Spicer on an apparent contradiction in administration policy toward Syria. On the one hand, said Welker, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the Syrian people would determine the fate of their ruler; on the other, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said there’ll be no peace in the region with Assad in power. Which is it? Welker asked. No contradiction there, said Spicer. “I don’t think those are mutually exclusive statements. … One of them’s saying I don’t see peace with him in charge; the other one’s saying we need to have him gone. I think that’s the point of both.”

Interesting perspective there. Among his many other powers, Spicer has the ability to obliterate distinctions. Herewith the dueling statements from Tillerson and Haley.

Tillerson:

“Our priority is first the defeat of ISIS,” Tillerson said. “Once we can eliminate the battle against ISIS, conclude that, and it is going quite well, then we hope to turn our attention to cease-fire agreements between the regime and opposition forces.

“In that regard, we are hopeful that we can work with Russia and use their influence to achieve areas of stabilization throughout Syria and create the conditions for a political process through Geneva in which we can engage all of the parties on the way forward, and it is through that political process that we believe the Syrian people will lawfully be able to decide the fate of Bashar al-Assad,” he added.

Haley: “In no way do we see peace in that area with Assad as the head of the Syrian government.”

There’s more on the Spicer-Syria front. After all that stuff about de-escalating the conflict in that chaotic country, he said, “The goal for the United States is twofold, as I’ve stated. It’s, one, to make sure that we destabilize Syria, destabilize the conflict there,” said the press secretary. The second part is creating a “political environment” for the Syrian people to exercise their will.

For the sake of those who follow the meaning of words, “destabilize” is not a synonym for “de-escalate.” In fact, destabilization can lead to an escalation in a conflict. We’ve asked Spicer to clarify the matter.

One final note on Monday’s briefing. Spicer himself rendered a dubious opinion of Syria’s leadership: “I can’t imagine a stable and peaceful Syria where Bissaa al-Ashar is in power.” Italics added to approximate the press secretary’s pronunciation of “Bashar al-Assad.” The Erik Wemple Blog will happily entertain other italicized approximations to Spicer’s attempt to pronounce the name of a foreign leader. Please see 53:59 on the video below.

Please send your Daily Spicer tips to erik.wemple@washpost.com