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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.

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.