President Trump released a statement Tuesday on the apparent use of chemical weapons that have killed dozens of people in Syria. It is full of sound and fury — at the Obama administration — and it signifies almost nothing.
Here's what Trump said:
Today’s chemical attack in Syria against innocent people, including women and children, is reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilized world. 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. The United States stands with our allies across the globe to condemn this intolerable attack.
First off, the statement reads like something that you would put out in the heat of the campaign. Half of it is devoted to what the past administration did and didn't do. Certainly the Obama administration took heat — and most would say deservedly so — for not holding to its “red line” policy on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad using chemical weapons. But two full sentences — out of four?
Second is the fact that Trump himself in 2013 urged Obama not to enforce that red line. To wit:
AGAIN, TO OUR VERY FOOLISH LEADER, DO NOT ATTACK SYRIA - IF YOU DO MANY VERY BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN & FROM THAT FIGHT THE U.S. GETS NOTHING!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 5, 2013
President Obama, do not attack Syria. There is no upside and tremendous downside. Save your "powder" for another (and more important) day!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 7, 2013
But even more conspicuous than that, the statement takes a harsh tone toward the Obama administration without saying what the Trump administration will do differently. The applicable Trump policy here, in fact, appears even less stringent than Obama's was: It's leaving Assad in power in the name of fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) first.
As recently as last week, both Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley both signaled that Assad would be left alone.
“Are we going to sit there and focus on getting him out? No,” Haley said.
Tillerson said during a trip to Turkey, meanwhile, that he thought the “longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.”
Obama set a red line and then didn't live up to it; the Trump administration's policy is apparently to talk tough without dictating any specific policies — except that Obama's policies were wrong (even though Trump agreed with them in the end).
The White House, of course, explains that it doesn't want to tip off the enemy before any action is taken. “I think the president has made it clear in the past, and will reiterate that today, that he is not here to telegraph what we're going to do,” press secretary Sean Spicer said earlier Tuesday.
That's a great excuse for not having a real strategy, which the Trump administration doesn't seem to have.