President Donald Trump on Wednesday said the recent chemical attack in Syria crossed “beyond a red line” and changed his mind about Bashar Assad, the ruthless Syrian president, whom Trump had previously suggested could stay in power.
When asked during a press conference with King Abdullah II of Jordan whether the gas attack crossed a “red line,” Trump said it “crossed a lot of lines” for him. The attack on Tuesday on a rebel-held town in northwest Syria killed at least 70 people.
“When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, babies, little babies, with a chemical gas that is so lethal, people were shocked to hear what gas it was,” Trump said, “that crosses many, many lines. Beyond a red line.”
Trump later said he was a “flexible person” and was capable of changing his opinions on issues.
“That attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me. Big impact,” Trump said. “That was a horrible, horrible thing. And I’ve been watching it and seeing it, and it doesn’t get any worse than that.
“It’s very, very possible, and I will tell you it’s already happened, that my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.”
Trump cited other attacks in Syria in recent weeks, saying they reached a “whole different level.” He also called this week’s attack “unacceptable.”
But Trump remained vague when asked whether his calculus on taking military action in Syria had changed. Trump has previously urged against using military action in Syria.
“One of the things I think you’ve noticed about me is, militarily, I don’t like to say where I’m going and what I’m doing,” Trump said. “I’m not saying I’m doing anything one way or the other. But I’m certainly not gonna be telling you.”
Trump also criticized former President Barack Obama for failing to act in Syria after drawing a “red line” in 2012. Obama had threatened military action if the Assad regime used chemical weapons but backtracked after evidence of such an attack surfaced.
“I think the Obama administration had a great opportunity to solve this crisis a long time ago when he said the red line in the sand,” Trump said. “And when he didn’t cross that line after making the threat, I think that set us back a long ways not only in Syria, but in many other parts of the world, because it was a blank threat.”
Trump said he now was responsible for helping resolve the Syrian civil war, which is dragging into its sixth year as rebels fight to oust Assad.
Despite Trump saying this week’s attack was on a “whole different level,” the Assad regime has been known to use chemical weapons throughout the war.
The New York Times noted that this week’s attack “was among the deadliest uses of chemical weapons in Syria in years,” but “it was far from an isolated case.” Watchdog organizations estimate that more than 1,000 Syrians have been killed in chemical attacks since the start of the war.
Trump’s statements on Assad in recent years have been all across the board.
In 2013, he tweeted, “AGAIN, TO OUR VERY FOOLISH LEADER, DO NOT ATTACK SYRIA – IF YOU DO MANY VERY BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN & FROM THAT FIGHT THE U.S. GETS NOTHING!”
The US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said last week that forcing Assad from power was no longer a priority for the US.