In early February, there was a serious and deadly firefight in Syria that pitted U.S. forces against hundreds of pro-Syrian government forces, which reportedly included Russian mercenaries. A recent New York Times account of the battle described it as an assault that last nearly four hours, included “merciless” U.S. airstrikes, and left hundreds of pro-Assad fighters dead.
The Times’ article added, “The prospect of Russian military forces and American troops colliding has long been feared as the Cold War adversaries take opposing sides in Syria’s seven-year civil war. At worst, officials and experts have said, it could plunge both countries into bloody conflict.”
Nearly four months after the firefight, it’s likely many Americans haven’t heard anything about it – and that’s not an accident. The White House and administration officials have said practically nothing about the skirmish since it happened.
And yet, as Politico reported, Donald Trump apparently couldn’t help himself at a closed-door fundraiser in New York last week.
The details of the battle remain classified, but speaking to donors in midtown Manhattan last Wednesday, Trump said he was amazed by the performance of American F-18 pilots. He suggested that the strikes may have been as brief as “10 minutes” and taken out 100 to 300 Russians, according to a person briefed on the president’s remarks, which have not previously been reported. […]
White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah declined to comment on Trump’s remarks because information about the Syria strikes remains classified.
And while Shah’s reticence is understandable, it only reinforces the larger concern: if information about the Syria strikes remains classified, why was the president sharing information about the Syria strikes with a group of wealthy donors?
Others can speak with more authority about the seriousness of Trump’s revelations, but let’s not forget that this president has an unfortunate track record in this area.
A year ago this week, for example, Trump had a chat with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in which the Republican shared information about dispatching two nuclear submarines off the coast of the Korean peninsula. By one account, Pentagon officials were “in shock” over Trump’s willingness to talk about the movement of U.S. submarines.
A few weeks earlier, Trump welcomed Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and then-Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak into the Oval Office – at the request of Russian President Vladimir Putin – where the American leader shared highly classified intelligence with his Russian guests.
About a month after Trump’s inauguration, the Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. intelligence officials were worried about the new president’s “trustworthiness” and “discretion.” In retrospect, maybe they were onto something.
As for the politics of all of this, in the recent past, Republicans seemed quite concerned about U.S. officials who were careless with sensitive information. Whatever happened to those fears?