US President Donald J. Trump after a group photo on the second day of the G7 Summit at the Hotel San Domenico in Taormina, Sicily, Italy, 27 May 2017.
In April, shortly after ordering a missile strike against a Syrian airbase controlled by the Assad regime, Donald Trump said in an interview that “we’re not going into Syria.” Even at the time, it was a strange thing for a sitting president to say.
After all, not only had he just launched a new military offensive against Bashar al Assad’s government – putting the United States on more than one side in Syria’s civil war – but there’s also the fact that American troops are already serving in Syria.
The assertion that “we’re not going into Syria” appears even more bizarre now in light of the developments from the last few days, as reported by the Washington Post:
On Sunday, a U.S. fighter jet downed a Syrian warplane for the first time in the conflict. By Monday, a key ally of President Bashar al-Assad, Russia, had suspended a pact used to prevent crashes with the U.S.-led coalition in the skies over Syria and was threatening to target American jets. […]
On Monday, Russia condemned that strike as a “flagrant violation of international law” and said its forces will treat U.S.-led coalition aircraft and drones as targets if they are operating in Syrian airspace west of the Euphrates River while Russian aviation is on combat missions.
The circumstances are as stunning as they are treacherous. Syria is in the midst of a horrific civil war, which Donald Trump said he wants to stay out, except he’s now targeting the Assad regime’s forces and its ISIS enemies – both with increasing frequency. Assad’s Russia allies, meanwhile, are now threatening to target American forces.
The crisis, in other words, is intensifying in ways the American president may not fully appreciate or understand.
The irony is, Trump’s pre-election concerns are wholly at odds with his post-election policy. In late October 2016, just a couple of weeks before Election Day, the Republican said he was convinced that Hillary Clinton’s approach to U.S. policy in Syria would “lead to World War III” because of the likelihood of a confrontation between American and Russian forces.
In other words, the GOP candidate warned of the dynamic that he may now be creating.
In the preceding years, Trump insisted, over and over again, that he saw greater U.S. intervention in Syria as a terrible mistake. “We should stay the hell out of Syria,” he declared at one point. “I would not go into Syria,” Trump later added.
For those who voted for him, assuming his rhetoric reflected how he’d govern, I’m afraid I have some bad news.