Trump bragged about classified Syria skirmish at fundraiser

The White House has tried to avoid discussing a February skirmish between U.S. troops and Russian mercenaries in Syria, but that didn’t stop President Donald Trump from bragging about the Pentagon’s performance at a recent closed-door fundraiser.

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.

Trump often makes unscripted comments at fundraisers, and he revels in the exploits of the U.S. military. At a Republican National Committee fundraiser last fall, he told the crowd that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had “never lost a battle,” and he has bragged about the country’s nuclear superiority in confrontations with North Korea.

American officials have long feared that a clash with Russian forces in Syria would add tension to the already strained relationship between the two countries, and they intentionally avoided Russian targets last month when they bombed the country in response to Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons. According to The New York Times, which last week provided the first detailed description of the battle, the confrontation lasted four hours and left between 200 and 300 pro-Assad forces dead.

[Politico]

Officials Confirm That Trump Bombed Syria to Validate His Tweets

Last week, the United States launched an act of war against a sovereign government because failing to do so would have cast doubt on the credibility of the statements that Donald Trump makes while livetweeting Fox & Friends.

That may sound like hyperbolic snark, or the premise of an Andy Borowitz column, but it is a plain description of the rationale behind last Friday’s missile strikes in Syria, according to multiple military and administration officials.

Last Tuesday — amid reports that the U.S. was considering a strike against the Assad regime, in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack against civilians in Douma — Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin warned that “if there is a US missile attack, we … will shoot down U.S. rockets and even the sources that launched the missiles.”

The Fox & Friends morning crew took exception to this bluster, with one host arguing, “What we should be doing is telling the Russians, ‘Every Syrian military base is a target and if you’re there, it is your problem.’”

Minutes later, one of the program’s most dedicated viewers echoed that belligerent note.

The White House had reached no final decision about whether to strike Syria — let alone, whether to target Russian assets within it — when the president tweeted this pledge. Over the ensuing days, Defense Secretary James Mattis implored Trump to hold off on bombing the Assad regime until its responsibility for the Douma attack could be fully verified, and Congress could be given a chance to authorize the act of war.

But the president couldn’t abide a delay. In his view, it was better to bomb Syria without a strategy or legal authorization than to invite doubts about the credibility of the threats he makes on social media. As the New York Times reports:

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis urged President Trump to get congressional approval before the United States launched airstrikes against Syria last week, but was overruled by Mr. Trump, who wanted a rapid and dramatic response, military and administration officials said.

Mr. Trump, the officials said, wanted to be seen as backing up a series of bellicose tweets with action, but was warned that an overly aggressive response risked igniting a wider war with Russia.

… Mr. Trump’s drumbeat of threats last week of a sharp response to the suspected gas attacks all but guaranteed that the United States military would strike Syria, according to two Defense Department officials who spoke on condition of anonymity … Mr. Trump did not necessarily want to hit Syria hard enough to bring Russia into the war, administration officials said. But he did want to appear aggressive in his response.

Just days before the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma, Trump had called for an immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Syria. At that point, Assad was already (allegedly) using chemical weapons on a routine basis. No significant facts on the ground changed between when the president wanted to remove every last American soldier from Syria, and when he wanted to escalate U.S. intervention against Assad. What did change were Fox News’ programming decisions.

Unlike Assad’s typical war crimes, the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma produced dead bodies that weren’t too mutilated to be aired extensively on American cable news channels. Trump reportedly saw those images and felt moved to assert American power. He then, ostensibly, saw a Fox & Friends segment in which Russia was portrayed as challenging his authority to assert that power. He tweeted a rebuke. And thus, America went to war.

Thanks to James Mattis, the bombings proved to be quite limited — mere “show strikes” designed to “send a message” without sparking a wider war. Had Trump picked a slightly less risk-averse hawk as his Defense secretary, however, it’s quite possible that his tweet would have been the trigger for a direct confrontation with Russia and Iran: As the Times reports, “neoconservative members of the Republican foreign policy establishment have started to air concerns that Mr. Mattis is ceding strategic territory to Iran and Russia in Syria.”

As it happened, Trump’s strikes proved sufficiently innocuous for “liberal” foreign policy wonks to feel comfortable endorsing them — even as they acknowledged the campaign’s illegality and strategic incoherence.

And yet, the fact that such Establishment figures blessed Trump’s decision to wage an illegal war in defense of his tweets only makes the development more unnerving.

Trump’s conduct as president is often terrifying for the ways in which it breaks radically with precedent. But a nearly-as-unsettling aspect of his presidency is the way it rubs one’s face in the insanity of American “politics-as-usual.” Which is to say: Like a caricature, Trump makes the more unsightly features of the American presidency more visible, by blowing them up to garish extremes.

It was, of course, absurd for the man who had campaigned in support of torture, banning Syrian refugees — and deliberately targeting the families of enemy combatants for execution — to justify air strikes in Syria on humanitarian grounds. But it was also (less gratuitously) absurd for Barack Obama to issue similarly moralistic condemnations of chemical warfare as such, while his administration allowed U.S. troops to deploy white phosphorus in Afghanistan — and helped its Saudi allies to commit war crimes in Yemen. It is insane that Trump launched a strategically incoherent military intervention for the sole purpose of projecting an image of strength to a domestic audience — but it was also insane for Lyndon Johnson to escalate American involvement in Vietnam for much the same reason.

None of this is to deny that our current president is more comprehensively detached from reality than his predecessors were. When other presidents made plainly hypocritical foreign policy statements — or took strategically dubious foreign policy actions — they generally did so in service of some sincere policy goal. By most accounts, George W. Bush genuinely believed in the power of the United States to spread democracy through mass murder. Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam policy was conceived, at least in part, as a means of preserving political capital for advancing liberal domestic goals.

By contrast, projecting a desirable image is Trump’s highest ambition. He does not use propaganda as means for advancing his preferred policies; he uses policy as a tool for advancing his preferred propaganda. The mogul did not run for president because he had deeply held convictions about how he wanted to change the world, but because he had a deeply felt desire to change how the world saw him. This is why he prefers to get his information about foreign affairs from a morning talk show, instead of from the most powerful intelligence apparatus ever assembled by humankind: Trump cares more about how geopolitical realities look to Fox News viewers, than about what those realities actually are.

From this perspective, the president’s missile strikes in Syria were strategically sound. If the goal was not to enforce the laws of war, but merely to replace one set of cable news images (the bodies of poisoned children in Syria, talking heads debating whether the president would follow through on his tweets) with another more triumphant one (the president sternly asserting America’s moral responsibilities, missiles streaking across a night sky), then it isn’t hard to see why Trump declared “Mission Accomplished.”

But it is difficult to understand how so many members of our nation’s foreign policy Establishment could see this solipsistic performance as a justifiable exercise of American power. And that difficulty leaves one to wonder whether the distinction between waging a war because Fox & Friends told you to and doing so because prestigious Beltway think tanks did is as significant as we might hope.

[New York Magazine]

Sarah Sanders Called Out For Tweeting Misleading Photo Celebrating Syria Strike

On Saturday evening, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted out a photo of the Situation Room, stating that the president had put “our adversaries on notice” the previous night. The implication of the photo was that Trump and his staff were reacting to Friday night’s military strike on Syria.

Only one problem with the tweet — Vice President Mike Pence wasn’t in Washington on Friday evening. The photo shows Pence at the table thus highlighting that it was taken earlier in the week as the vice president was in Peru on Friday.

[Mediaite]

Trump tweets “Mission Accomplished!” after Syria bombing

Less than 24 hours after ordering missile strikes in Syria, President Donald Trump declared, “Mission Accomplished!” in a tweet on Saturday.

The reaction was swift: Twitter users and political pundits immediately drew parallels with President George W. Bush’s now-infamous 2003 speech just over a month into the Iraq War, in which he announced an end to “major combat operations” in Iraq under a “Mission Accomplished” banner. In actuality, the war was far from over and would stretch on for years.

Trump on Sunday defended his use of the phrase on Twitter and said he’s trying to bring it back in vogue. He said he knew the “Fake News Media” would “seize on this but felt it is such a great Military term.” He said he wants to bring it back and “use often!”

The missile strike that Trump was referring to occurred on Friday night. In an announcement, Trump said the attack was underway in retaliation for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons on rebel-held areas of the country. The attacks left at least 42 adults and children dead. The United States, Britain, and France hit three targets in the country, including the capital of Damascus, in what Defense Secretary Jim Mattiscalled a “one-time shot.”

Trump, who has publicly telegraphed his thinking on Syria on Twitter in recent days, took to the platform to take a victory lap after the bombing.

“A perfectly executed strike last night,” he wrote. “Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military. Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!”

The Pentagon backed Trump’s assertion. “We met our objectives. We hit the sites, the heart of the chemical weapons program. So it was mission accomplished,” spokesperson Dana White said in a statement to ABC News.

[Vox]

Reality

US military officials have already acknowledged that the strikes did little to blunt Syria’s capacity to manufacture and deliver chemical weapons. The mission was a compromise from the start, targeting facilities that would result in the lowest possible probability of loss of civilian life. And the US warned Russia in advance using the deconfliction line between the US and Russian militaries that there would be an operation over Syria, tipping off Russia and Syria of the strike Trump had already promised was coming.

The strike did accomplish a few things besides blowing up (apparently empty) buildings. It demonstrated how the US, French, and British militaries are capable of orchestrating a joint strike operation on (relatively) short notice, as well as the effectiveness of two relatively new weapons systems. It also demonstrated how some of the oldest weapons systems in the US military’s inventory can still serve a role in these sorts of operations. And the strike gave nearly everyone but the US Army and US Coast Guard an opportunity to take part.

There is also the possibility that these strikes were illegal and unconstitutional.

Trump: US, France and UK launch strikes on Syria

President Donald Trump announced on Friday he ordered strikes on the Syrian regime in response to a chemical weapons attack last weekend.

“I ordered the United States armed forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapon capabilities of Syrian dictator of Bashar al-Assad,” Trump said from the White House Diplomatic Reception Room.

US aircraft and ships were used in the attack, according to multiple US defense officials.

Trump said the strikes were in coordination with France and the United Kingdom, adding that the purpose of the campaign is to “establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons.”

“The combined American, British and French response to these atrocities will integrate all instruments of our national power: military, economic and diplomatic,” Trump said.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May said in a statement that she “authorized British armed forces to conduct co-ordinated and targeted strikes to degrade the Syrian Regime’s chemical weapons capability and deter their use.”

Trump indicated the strikes would continue until the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons ends.

“We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents,” Trump said.

The President also insisted that the US would not remain engaged in Syria forever under any circumstances. He has previously told his national security team he wants US troops to exit Syria within six months.

“America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria,” Trump said from the White House.

“As other nations step up their contributions we look forward to the day we can bring our warriors home.”

Trump told the nation in his address the US “cannot purge the world of evil or act everywhere there is tyranny.”

And he described the Middle East as a “troubled place.”

“We will try to make it better but it is a troubled place,” Trump said. “The US will be a partner and a friend. But the fate of the region lies in the hands of its own people.”
He criticized Russia’s support of the Syrian regime saying “Russia must decide if it will continue down this dark path.”

Trump also called out Russia’s promise in 2013 that they would guarantee the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons.

[CNN]

Trump softens rhetoric on potential Syria strike

President Donald Trump on Thursday softened his rhetoric about potential airstrikes on Syria, a day after warning Russia that missiles “will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart.'”
In an early morning tweet and later in comments at the White House, Trump attempted to cloud the timing of military action — a day after indicating it was imminent — and said a final decision had not yet been made.

“Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!,” the President tweeted. Trump notably did not rule out plans to attack Syria in retaliation for the weekend’s suspected chemical attack on civilians at the hands of the Assad regime.

The President, however, did not specifically refer to the attack’s timing in his Wednesday tweet, though he warned Russia to “get ready.” In Thursday’s tweet, Trump also suggested he did not get enough credit for US gains against ISIS in the region, asking, “Where is our ‘Thank you America?'”

Speaking to reporters at the White House later in the day, Trump said a decision had not yet been made on a course of action.

“We’re looking very, very seriously, very closely, at that whole situation,” the President said during a meeting with farm state lawmakers. “We have to make some further decisions. So they’ll be made fairly soon.”

Secretary of Defense James Mattis echoed the President when he told lawmakers Thursday, “We have not yet made any decision to launch military attacks into Syria.”
The President will meet with his national security team at the White House on Thursday for further discussions on the US response.

Trump on Wednesday vowed to thwart Russia’s missile defense system in Syria, warning that rockets “will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart.'” In tweeting about a potential attack, Trump appeared to publicly telegraph military plans — something for which he heavily criticized former President Barack Obama back in 2013.

Mattis said Wednesday that the US is “still assessing the intelligence” on whether the Assad regime is to blame for the recent suspected chemical attack. Russia has blamed Syrian opposition forces for the attack.

Trump has consulted with US allies, particularly France and the United Kingdom, about a coordinated response to the suspected chemical attack, but officials say they have not reached a firm agreement on scale or timing. The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, was convening a meeting of her Cabinet on Thursday afternoon, at which she is expected to make the case for supporting the US in any military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova warned against a missile strike, writing on Facebook Wednesday that it could destroy evidence on the ground and interrupt the work of international investigators.

“Smart missiles should fly toward terrorists, not the legal government that has been fighting international terrorism for several years on its territory,” Zakharova wrote in response to Trump’s Wednesday tweet.

Should the President follow through on his warnings of an attack, two US Navy destroyers armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles are in position and ready to be called into action, among other assets including jets and submarines.

[CNN]

Trump says missiles ‘will be coming’

US President Donald Trump has tweeted that Russia should “get ready” for missiles to be fired at its ally Syria, in response to an alleged chemical attack near Damascus on Saturday.

“Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!'” Mr Trump said in his tweet.

Senior Russian figures have threatened to meet any US strikes with a response.

President Bashar al-Assad’s government denies mounting a chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Douma.

In one of his tweets on Wednesday, Mr Trump called the Syrian leader a “gas killing animal”.

In another, he painted a dark picture of US-Russia relations but said it did not have to be that way.

The US, UK and France have agreed to work together and are believed to be preparing for a military strike in response to the alleged chemical attack at the weekend.

[BBC]

Trump: Saudi Arabia Might ‘Have to Pay’ For U.S. to Keep Troops in Syria

President Donald Trump said in his joint presser with Baltic leaders that Saudi Arabia might “have to pay” for the United States to maintain a military presence in Syria.

“As far as Syria is concerned, our primary mission in terms of that was getting rid of ISIS,” Trump responded to a question. “We’ve almost completed that task.”

“And we’ll be making a decision very quickly in coordination with others in the area as to what we’ll do,” he added. “Saudi Arabia is very interested in our decision. And I said, well, you know, you want us to stay maybe you’re going to have to pay.”

Trump continued:

But we do a lot of things in this country, we do them for — we do them for a lot of reasons. But it is very costly for our country. And it helps other countries a hell of a lot more than it helps us. So we’re going to be making a decision. We’ve had a tremendous military success against ISIS as you know. It is close 100% as I just said. And we’ll be making a decision as to what we do in the very near future. We’ll be consulting also with the groups of our people and groups of our allies.

Reuters White House reporter Steve Holland asked Trump if he is “inclined to pull the troops out” of Syria, to which the president replied:

“I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home. I want to start rebuilding our nation. We will have as of three months ago, $7 trillion in the Middle East over the last 17 years. We get nothing out of it. Nothing.”

[Mediaite]

Trump Draws a His Own Red Line in Syria

Defense officials were “caught off guard” Monday by a White House statement warning against “potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime,” Buzzfeed reports.

“The United States has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children,” the statement from White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer reads. “The activities are similar to preparations the regime made before its April 4, 2017 chemical weapons attack.”

“As we have previously stated, the United States is in Syria to eliminate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. If, however, Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price.”

Buzzfeed spoke to five US defense officials who told the publications “they did not know where the potential chemical attack would come from” and were not informed that the White House was going to release such a statement. As Buzzfeed notes, statements like this are usually coordinated across national security agencies prior to their release.

Likewise, the New York Times reports that “several” military officials were caught of guard by the White House statement.

[Raw Story]

Donald Trump Personally Profited From Missile-Maker Raytheon’s Stock Jump After His Syria Attack

While the world is dealing with both the implications and the fall-out from President Donald Trump’s missile attack on a Syrian airfield on Thursday, the manufacturer of the Tomahawk missile used in the attack is seeing their stock surge which is good news for their investors — including the president.

As noted by the Palmer Report, Trump owns stock in Raytheon, which was reported by Business Insider in 2015.

According  to Trump’s financial disclosure reports filed with the FEC in 2015, his stock portfolio includes investments in  technology firms, financial institutions and defense firms, including Raytheon.

On Thursday, Trump launched an attack on the al-Shayrat military airfield, used by both Syrian and Russian military forces, hitting it with 59 Tomahawk missiles manufactured by Raytheon. Trump’s attack on Syria was reportedly in response to a deadly gas attack launched by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against his own people earlier in the week.

While the Tomahawk attack did little damage to the airfield — with the Syrian air force  continuing to launch assaults from the same base on Friday — investors, sensing an increasing escalation in tensions between two countries and the possibility of war , pushed Raytheon stock up.

Since taking office, Trump has refused to divulge all of his financial information — including his income taxes — and refused to place his business and financial holdings in a blind trust allowing Trump and his family to move money and investments around as they see fit.

(h/t Raw Story)

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