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Fact Check: Trump contradicts himself on Syria

A Syrian victim received treatment after an alleged chemical attack at a field hospital inSaraqib, northern Syria.European PressPhoto Agency

In a statement condemning Tuesday’s chemical attack in Syria, President Donald Trump faulted the administration of former President Barack Obama for not intervening more aggressively in that country’s civil war — contradicting his own, earlier advice.

“Today’s chemical attack in Syria against innocent people, including women and children, is reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilized world,” Trump said in the statement released by the White House. “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,” Trump continued, referring to Obama’s first direct threat of force. “The United States stands with our allies across the globe to condemn this intolerable attack.”


But Trump has repeatedly advocated doing “nothing” in Syria, insisting it is not America’s “problem.”

Trump told Obama to ‘not attack.’

In 2013, the Obama administration concluded that the government of Syria’s president, Assad, had used chemical weapons in an attack that killed hundreds of people on the outskirts of Damascus. At the time, critics noted that Obama was stepping back from his own “red line” threat to punish Assad for deploying chemical weapons.

Trump also mentioned the red line threat, but to counsel restraint.

In more than a dozen messages on Twitter in 2013 and 2014, Trump repeated his advice, emphatically stating that “Syria is NOT our problem,” appealing directly to Obama to “not attack Syria” as “there is no upside and tremendous downside” and telling him to “stay out of Syria.”

Trump had a noninterventionist stance during the 2016 election.

Trump shrugged at calls to use force against Assad’s government and endorsed Russia’s support of the Syrian leader.

“You have Russia that’s now there. Russia’s on the side of Assad, and Russia wants to get rid of ISIS as much as we do, if not more, because they don’t want them coming into Russia,” Trump said in a September 2015 interview with CNN. “Let Syria and ISIS fight. Why do we care?”


In a May 2016 interview on MSNBC, Trump said the United States had “bigger problems than Assad.” He added, “I would have stayed out of Syria and wouldn’t have fought so much for Assad, against Assad.”

So emphatic was Mr. Trump’s stance on Syria that he disavowed the stance of his own running mate. After the October 2016 vice-presidential debate, when Mike Pence, then governor of Indiana, backed strikes against Assad, Trump stated, “I disagree.”

In the general election, Trump repeatedly criticized Hillary Clinton and Obama for pushing for “immediate regime change in Syria.” Yet as even Trump noted in his statement on Tuesday, Obama did little to remove Assad.

Trump also disparaged Clinton’s campaign stances on Syria — she had denounced Russia’s intervention in the war and called for a no-fly zone — and Trump said numerous times that her policies would “lead to World War III.”

After his election, Trump questioned the incentive for ‘attacking.’

“I think going in was a terrible, terrible mistake. Syria, we have to solve that problem because we are going to just keep fighting, fighting forever. I have a different view on Syria than everybody else,” he said during an interview with The New York Times.


Referring to Sen. Lindsey Graham’s call to support rebels in Syria fighting Assad, Trump said: “Give me a break. I had to listen to Lindsey Graham talk about, you know, attacking Syria and attacking, you know, and it’s like you’re now attacking Russia, you’re attacking Iran, you’re attacking. And what are we getting? We’re getting — and what are we getting?”