U.S. President Barack Obama speaks while meeting with President-elect Donald Trump following a meeting in the Oval Office Nov. 10, 2016 in Washington, DC. 
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty

Trump tries blaming Obama for a deadly chemical attack in Syria

The developments in northern Syria are gut-wrenching: the Assad government is suspected of launching a chemical attack on rebel-held territory in the Idlib province, leaving at least 58 people, including 11 children, dead. These are preliminary totals, and it’s likely the death toll will rise.

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Donald Trump and his administration have condemned the attack, but they’ve also taken explicit steps to blame President Obama.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, for example, after describing the attack as an “intolerable act,” said today, “President Obama said in 2012 he would establish a red line against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing.”

To the extent that reality still matters, what Obama actually did was seek congressional authorization for a military offensive against the Assad regime – authorization that Spicer’s Republican allies in Congress refused to offer. A guy by the name of Donald J. Trump was especially vocal in his opposition to Obama attacking the Assad government in Syria.

Later this afternoon, the White House issued a statement of its own, this time attributed specifically to Trump:
“Today’s chemical attack in Syria against innocent people, including women and children, is reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilized world. These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration’s weakness and irresolution. President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a ‘red line’ against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing.”
Even by Trump standards, this posture is as cheap as it is indefensible.

First, seeing Trump attack Obama for having done nothing about Assad, after Trump urged Obama to do nothing about Assad, is madness.

Second, Team Trump’s attempts to clumsily play the partisan blame game are ridiculous. The president can’t credibly declare that he deserves credit for U.S. job totals in January and February, and then insist that Obama deserves blame for developments in Syria in April.

Trump may like the idea of effectively saying, “All good news belongs to me, while all bad news belongs to my predecessor,” but no fair-minded person should consider this anything but nonsense.

Finally, if the Trump White House is eager to hold Americans at least partially responsible for Assad’s apparent chemical attack, the West Wing might want to start with the president’s foreign-policy team.
[U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley’s] statements came just days after both she and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stirred controversy when they said the U.S. was no longer trying to remove Assad from power and may work with him to help fight the Islamic State. The comments represented a sharp departure from the strategy of former President Barack Obama, whose administration for years worked to remove the Syrian dictator from power.

Haley told reporters on Thursday that the plan has changed, and the United States’ “priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out.”

“Do we think he’s a hindrance? Yes. Are we going to sit there and focus on getting him out? No,” she said.
In other words, less than a week after top Trump administration officials publicly said they no longer wish to remove Assad from power, the Assad government appears to have gassed many of his own people.

Trump may want to blame Obama, and it might make the Republican feel better, but reality has a way of asserting itself.

Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Foreign Policy and Syria

Trump tries blaming Obama for a deadly chemical attack in Syria