{{show_title_date || "Trump White House Syria policy rife with contradiction, 4/11/17, 9:56 PM ET"}}

Trump’s problematic new vow: ‘We’re not going into Syria’

In August, Donald Trump reflected a bit on foreign policy and declared with great confidence, “[Vladimir Putin is] not going into Ukraine, okay, just so you understand. He’s not gonna go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down. You can put it down. You can take it anywhere you want.”

It was, at the time, a bizarre thing to say, because Putin’s forces were already in Ukraine. It raised concerns about Trump’s ignorance and ability to keep up with current events.

But in hindsight, perhaps the trouble was with Trump’s confusion about the word “into.” Take the president’s latest rhetoric about U.S. policy towards Syria, for example.
President Donald Trump said in an interview to air Wednesday that “we’re not going into Syria” after the United States launched a cruise missile strike against a government airbase in that nation over a chemical attack in the country’s six-year civil war.
Putting aside the fact that Trump just ignored his own rule about discussing his future security plans, his declaration that “we’re not going into Syria” is problematic because we’re already in Syria.

Not only have U.S. forces launched military offensives against the Assad regime and ISIS targets – putting the United States in the position of attacking more than one side of Syria’s civil war simultaneously – but as Rachel noted on the show last night, hundreds of American troops are currently serving in Syria, the country the president says we’re not going into.

In the same Fox Business interview, Trump added that his missile strikes against Assad’s government “should have been done by the Obama administration a long time before,” putting Trump in the awkward position of arguing against himself – because when Obama considered an offensive against Assad, it was Trump who repeatedly argued against it.

The Rachel Maddow Show, 4/11/17, 9:56 PM ET

Trump White House Syria policy rife with contradiction

Spencer Ackerman, U.S. national security editor for The Guardian, talks with Rachel Maddow about the challenge of identifying a clear Trump administration Syria policy amid contradicting statements and behavior.
Spencer Ackerman, U.S. national security editor for The Guardian, talks with Rachel Maddow about the challenge of identifying a clear Trump administration Syria policy amid contradicting statements and behavior.
Meanwhile, Russia is reportedly demanding that the Trump administration explain what its policy towards Syria is, and Moscow isn’t alone in seeking clarity. Right now, no one anywhere seems to have any idea what the White House’s current position is.

As Rachel noted on the show last night, The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman counted five different U.S. policies towards Syria, articulated by top officials in the Trump administration, just over the last two weeks. “Confused by Donald Trump’s policy on Syria?” Ackerman wrote. “That just means you’ve been listening to what his administration has been saying.”

The New York Times had a related rundown a couple of days ago:
As various officials have described it, the United States will intervene only when chemical weapons are used – or any time innocents are killed. It will push for the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria – or pursue that only after defeating the Islamic State. America’s national interest in Syria is to fight terrorism. Or to ease the humanitarian crisis there. Or to restore stability.

The latest mixed messages were sent on Monday in both Washington and Europe. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson – during a stop in Italy on his way to Moscow for a potentially tense visit, given Russian anger at last week’s missile strike – outlined a dramatically interventionist approach. “We rededicate ourselves to holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world,” he said.

Hours later, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said at his daily briefing that Mr. Trump would act against Syria not just if it resorted to chemical weapons, like the sarin nerve agent reportedly used last week, but also when it used conventional munitions. “If you gas a baby, if you put a barrel bomb into innocent people, I think you will see a response from this president,” Mr. Spicer said.
Spicer abandoned that standard a couple of hours later, which was emblematic of just how incoherent the White House’s policy has become.