President Donald Trump is trying to clear up his administration’s message on next steps for Syria after he ordered a missile strike against an airbase in the country last week.
“We’re not going into Syria,” Trump said in an interview with Fox Business. Trump leaned in on Syrian President Bashar Assad, calling him an “animal,” before turning to Assad ally Russia, saying Russian President Vladimir Putin was “backing a person that’s truly an evil person.”
The comments were some of the most definitive declarations Trump has made in the days since he ordered the US Navy to drop 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles on Syria’s Shayrat airbase, but his words follow a number of mixed messages from within his administration on the Syrian regime and on Russia:
- The White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, on Monday said the US would not become “the world’s policeman,” but he said later about Syria’s chemical weapons use, “If we see this kind of action again, we hold open the possibility of future action.” He later walked back the claim in a statement to Business Insider. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the White House was against “violent change at the top” in Syria. The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said “we don’t see a peaceful Syria with Assad in there.” And Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis asserted the situation in Syria would “not spiral out of control.”
During Trump’s Fox Business interview Wednesday, Trump appeared resolute, saying Putin’s loyalty to Assad was “very bad for Russia … very bad for mankind … very bad for the world.”
Turning back to Assad, Trump said: “When you drop gas, or bombs, or barrel bombs … drop them right in the middle of a group of people. This is an animal.”
It is unclear how the Trump administration’s official posture toward Syria and Russia will evolve, but members of Congress have urged the White House to make it clear.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor Friday that the Trump administration should identify its objectives for “dealing with the Assad regime in a manner that preserves the institutions of government.” Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, said Assad needed to be reminded that he would “pay a price” for committing “despicable atrocities.”