WASHINGTON (AP) — In heated
exchanges with his national security
team in recent weeks, President
Donald Trump repeatedly made clear
he saw little incentive for the United
States to be involved in Syria’s
intractable civil war.
Then he pushed the U.S. military
back into the quagmire.
In doing so, Trump is trying to
confront a dilemma that haunted his
predecessor, Barack Obama. Syria’s
seven-year civil war presents few fast
or easy solutions for the U.S., yet the
geopolitical rivalries at play, the
presence of the Islamic State group
and other extremists, and the
atrocities perpetrated by the Assad
government make the situation
impossible to ignore.
Thus far, Trump and his top advisers
have sent mixed messages about
what Friday’s U.S., British and
French strikes may mean for his
administration’s future commitment
The strikes themselves were limited
— 105 weapons launched against
three targets. Defense Secretary Jim
Mattis described the action as a “one-
time shot” in retaliation for the
Syrian government’s apparent use of
chemical weapons in an April 7
attack that killed more than 40
Trump, however, cast the strikes in
more sweeping terms, promising he
was ready to keep the U.S. military
engaged if Syrian President Bashar
Assad were to use deadly gases
President Donald Trump spoke to the nation
late Friday on U.S. missile strikes against the
Assad regime in response to its purported
chemical weapons attack against Syrian
civilians. (April 13)
“We are prepared to sustain this
response until the Syrian regime
stops its use of prohibited chemical
agents,” Trump said in a televised
address to the nation from the White
House on Friday night.
His comments were echoed Saturday
by Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador
to the United Nations, who said the
president told her the military was
“locked and loaded” if Syria
launched another chemical weapons
The president’s statement was a
marked shift from his recent posture
Earlier this month, he privately told
advisers that the U.S. was getting
“nothing” out of being involved in
Syria and he made clear he wanted
the 2,000 American troops currently
there fighting ISIS militants out by
That order left many of Trump’s
national security advisers on edge,
concerned that pulling out even that
small U.S. force would result in a
power vacuum that Iran could fill.
It did win him praise from political
supporters who perceive Syria as a
costly wasteland and see Trump as a
president who promised an “America
First” agenda that did not include
sustained American military
The importance of that pledge to
some Trump backers quickly became
apparent, with even the relatively
limited American intervention in
Syria leaving them deeply frustrated.
“This is not why Donald Trump got
elected,” said Laura Ingraham, the
Fox News host who has been
supportive of the president.
Ann Coulter, another conservative
commentator, spent the weekend
highlighting angry messages on
Twitter from apparent Trump
supporters, including one who wrote
that while the “the direct damage
was some buildings in Damascus; the
collateral damage was Trump’s
political support base.”
If Trump was bothered by the
growing criticism, he didn’t show it.
He took to Twitter on Saturday
morning and wrote “Mission
Accomplished” — adopting a phrase
that haunted President George W.
Bush during the Iraq war. For some,
those two words represent the short-
sightedness about how quickly the
U.S. can become entangled in a
protracted Middle East conflict.
Trump’s view of the situation on
Syria has shifted repeatedly in recent
years. As a private citizen in 2013,
he said Obama should “stay the hell
out of Syria.” Trump condemned
Obama for declaring that Syria’s use
of chemical weapons would cross a
“red line” for the United States and
he said it made Obama look weak
when he didn’t follow through with a
military strike after Assad used
deadly gases against civilians.
Less than three months after Trump
took office, the U.S. assessed that
Assad had again used chemical
weapons to kill Syrians.
Moved by the images of dead
children, Trump stunned many of his
own supporters by saying that the
action had crossed “many, many
lines” for him. He ordered a U.S.
airstrike on a Syrian air base.
Since then, Trump’s views on the
situation in Syria have evolved.
Earlier this year, he began telling
advisers that as soon as the U.S.
could declare victory against IS,
which has taken hold in Syria amid
the chaos of the civil war, he wanted
American troops out.
At a recent event in Ohio, Trump
said of Syria: “Let other people take
care of it now.”
Just one week later came the attack
that drew Trump back in.