President Trump on Thursday appeared to frame a U.S. military strike on Syria as a matter of when, not if, undercutting his spokeswoman's effort one day earlier to temper a declaration that missiles “will be coming.”
In a tweet, Trump said that he “never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!” The message left no room for the possibility that an attack will not happen, at all.
Thursday's tweet was consistent with one the president composed on Wednesday. In the earlier tweet, Trump warned Russia, an ally of Syria, to “get ready” for “nice and new and 'smart!' ” missiles.
Between the tweets, on Wednesday afternoon, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried repeatedly to convince reporters that Trump had not tipped his hand.
“I think there's a lot there that you can read from,” Sanders said at a media briefing, referring to the “get ready” tweet. “But at the same time, the president has a number of options at his disposal, and all of those options remain on the table, and we're continuing to look at each one of them.”
“But, Sarah,” ABC's Jonathan Karl countered, later in the briefing, “the president was direct in talking about missiles. He said, 'Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and 'smart!' Why is the president telegraphing military intentions on Twitter — announcing, effectively, an attack on Twitter?”
“Again, the president has not laid out a timetable and [is] still leaving a number of other options on the table,” Sanders replied. “And we're still considering a number of those, and a final decision on that front hasn't been made.”
In fact, Trump did offer one kind of timetable. On Monday, he said, “We are meeting with our military and everybody else, and we'll be making some major decisions over the next 24 to 48 hours.”
Note that Trump said “major decisions” would be made within 48 hours — not that military action would happen within that window, which is now closed. His tweets indicate that he has, indeed, made a decision to strike Syria.
Though Sanders said “all options are on the table,” Trump has chosen an option, according to his tweets. He could change his mind, of course, but the only question he has left open, in his statements, is when the missiles will launch.