Offered an opportunity to explain what he planned to do about a savage chemical weapons attack in Syria that indiscriminately killed 72 people, including children, President Donald Trump located the true enemy and pounced without mercy:
“I think the Obama administration had a responsibility to solve the crisis a long time ago. And when [President Barack Obama] didn’t cross that line in making the threat, I think that set us back a long ways not only in Syria, but in many other parts of the world because it was a blank threat,” Trump said during a Rose Garden press conference with King Abdullah II of Jordan. “I think it was something that was not one of our better days as a country.”
It was the second time in as many days that Trump had gone after the previous administration for its Syrian failures, all while ducking any question of how he might approach one of the great humanitarian and foreign policy crises of our time.
Not content to criticize Obama on Syria, Trump launched another broadside when he apparently misunderstood a foreign reporter’s question on how the administration planned to deal with Iran’s culpability in the years-long Syrian civil war.
Apparently thinking the journalist was referring the Iranian nuclear disarmament agreement (which is widely considered a foreign policy success) Trump said the “deal made by the previous administration is one of the worst deals I’ve ever witnessed, and I’ve witnessed some beauties.”
Trump’s unusually petulant attacks on Obama had the twin effect of stepping on a broader and more important message, and making him once again look small next to another world leader.
Until the Tuesday attack that horrified the world, Trump’s administration said it wouldn’t seek the ouster of Syrian butcher Bashar al Assad, saying such a course of action would be “silly” given the situation on the ground, The New York Times reported.
On Wednesday, Trump, who’d been clearly moved by gruesome footage of slain children, told journalists the attack “crossed a lot of lines for me and that his “attitude towards Syria and Assad has changed very much.”
Trump is right about at least this much: Obama’s reluctance to fully engage in the Syrian conflict, and then to not carry through on his “Red Line” threat, was one of the great failures of his administration.
And its repercussions will be felt for years. Though that’s not news. Obama himself has acknowledged that reality more than once.
“I would say of all the things that have happened during the course of my presidency, the knowledge that you have hundreds of thousands of people who have been killed, millions who have been displaced, (makes me) ask myself what might I have done differently along the course of the last five, six years,” Obama told the presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin last September.
None of which exempts Trump, who now fully owns the conflict and the American prosecution of it.
And he appeared to acknowledge as much, saying “he now has “responsibility and I will have that responsibility and carry it very proudly.”
Whatever that means.
Because in 2013, Trump was urging Obama on Twitter to take the same course of action he blasted him for on Wednesday.
“What will we get for bombing Syria besides more debt and a possible long term conflict? Obama needs Congressional approval,” he tweeted in August 2013.
Speaking to reporters, the statesman-like Abdullah said it would take a political solution to resolve a conflict that’s displaced millions and claimed the lives of countless thousands.
Terrorism “has no borders, no nationality, no religion,” said Abdullah, an American ally through thick and thin.
The best Trump could manage?
“The world is a mess. I inherited a mess,” he said. “Whether it’s the Middle East, whether it’s North Korea... I inherited a mess. And we’re going to fix it.”
Again, it would be nice to know how this White House intends to proceed.
So far, its steps do not appear to include any direct action against Russia or Iran, both of whom are suspected of propping up Assad’s murderous regime.
A signal did come, however, from United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, who offered a sharp rebuke during a stinging speech to the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday.
“There are times when we are compelled to do more than just talk,” Haley said, according to The Washington Times. She added that “Russia cannot escape responsibility for this.”
Too bad her boss got in the way of that message.
An award-winning political journalist, Micek is the Opinion Editor and Political Columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Readers may follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.