President Trump has a simple message about military action in Syria: The United States is not going in.
“We’re not going into Syria,” Trump told New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin in one of two new interviews published Wednesday.
“Our policy is the same,” Trump said. “It hasn’t changed. We’re not going into Syria.”
In an interview with Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo, Trump’s message was the same.
“We’re not going into Syria,” he said.
The United States already has hundreds of troops in Syria working to support the coalition against the so-called Islamic State, also known as ISIS. The Syrian government is locked in a multifaceted civil war against both ISIS and rebel forces. The United States accused Syrian President Bashar Assad of using chemical weapons against civilian targets in his broader campaign against rebel-controlled areas.
“When you see these beautiful kids that are dead in their father’s arms, or you see kids gasping for life, and you know it’s over, it’s over for them — they’re hosing them down,” Trump told Bartiromo. “Hundreds of them. When you see that, I immediately called Gen. Mattis. I said, ‘What can we do?’ And they came back with a number of different alternatives. And we hit them very hard.”
“Now, are we going to get involved with Syria? No,” the president continued. “But if I see them using gas and using things that — I mean even some of the worst tyrants in the world didn’t use the kind of gases that they used. And some of the gases are unbelievably potent.”
After seeing those images of the Syrian government’s alleged deadly chemical attacks on its civilians, Trump ordered airstrikes against Syria — something he now says former President Barack Obama should have done after the 2013 chemical attacks carried out by Assad.
“What I did should have been done by the Obama administration a long time before I did it,” said Trump. “I think Syria would be a lot better off right now than it has been.”
At the time, however, Trump had a different message for Obama. In 2013, he repeatedly warned Obama — using forceful language — to not attack Syria.
We should stay the hell out of Syria, the "rebels" are just as bad as the current regime. WHAT WILL WE GET FOR OUR LIVES AND $ BILLIONS?ZERO
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 16, 2013
If the U.S. attacks Syria and hits the wrong targets, killing civilians, there will be worldwide hell to pay. Stay away and fix broken U.S.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 3, 2013
What I am saying is stay out of Syria.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 4, 2013
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
Trump’s comments in the Wednesday interviews were the first he’s made publicly since last Thursday’s airstrikes, which targeted an airfield used by the Syrian military.
According to a CBS News poll published Monday, most Americans approved of the decision — but few would support U.S. military action beyond them.
The survey showed 57 percent approved of Thursday’s airstrikes, including an overwhelming percentage of Republicans (84 percent). But 69 percent believe the president needs to get authorization from Congress before taking further action, according to the CBS poll — and just 18 percent would favor full U.S. military involvement, including ground troops, in Syria. Nearly the same percentage (15 percent) said they want no U.S. involvement in Syria whatsoever.
Despite launching those strikes, Trump says the U.S. mission in Syria remains the same.
“Our big mission is getting rid of ISIS,” Trump told the Post. “That’s where it’s always been. But when you see kids choking to death, you watch their lungs burning out, we had to hit [Assad] and hit him hard.”
Still, Trump said it wasn’t an easy decision.
“It’s very tough to give that final go-ahead when you know you’re talking about human life,” he said. “We went back and forth, and also back and forth about severity. We could have gone bigger in terms of targets and more of them, but we thought this would be the appropriate first shot.”
Trump added: “We hope he won’t do any more gassing.”
The president’s comments come following several days of Trump administration officials sending mixed messages on Syria.
On Friday, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told the U.N. Security Council that Trump was “prepared to do more in Syria.”
“I was trying to give warning and notice to the members of the Security Council and the international community that he won’t stop here,” Haley later explained CNN. “If he needs to do more, he will do more.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, though, said the strike against Syria was a one-off.
“I think the president was very clear in his message to the American people that this strike was related solely to the most recent horrific use of chemical weapons against women, children, and as the president said, even small babies,” Tillerson said. “Other than that, there is no change to our military posture.”
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