Trump Blames Syria Gas Attack on Obama's Inaction, but Told Him Not to Strike Assad in 2013

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U.S. President Donald Trump at a town hall with business leaders in the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex in Washington, April 4, 2017.
U.S. President Donald Trump at a town hall with business leaders in the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex in Washington, April 4, 2017.Credit: Evan Vucci/AP

WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump declared on Tuesday that the chemical attack in Syria, which killed at least 100 and was allegedly carried out by the Assad regime, was the fault of former U.S. President Barack Obama.

An official White House statement, referring explicitly to Trump’s predecessor, stated:

“Today’s chemical attack in Syria against innocent people, including women and children, is reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilized world. 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. The United States stands with our allies across the globe to condemn this intolerable attack.”

The statement referred to Obama’s decision, made in the summer of 2013, not to follow through on his promise to attack the Assad regime once it was proven it had indeed used chemical weapons against its citizens. Instead of attacking Syria, Obama said he would first ask for authorization from U.S. Congress, which proved impossible to amass because of opposition from both parties. Eventually, Obama signed a deal with Russia that forced the Assad regime to ship the vast majority – more than 90 percent – of its chemical weapons out of Syria.

In recent years, both Democratic and Republican critics of Obama’s Syria policy have used a line of criticism similar to the one found in the White House’s statement. For Trump himself to use it now, however, is somewhat problematic; unlike many of Obama’s critics on the issue, Trump did not urge the former president to attack Assad in 2013. 

Indeed, the opposite is true: In 2013, Trump called on Obama not to attack Syria, despite the horrific images showing the deaths of hundreds of Syrian citizens as a result of chemical attacks by the Assad regime.

On September 7th, 2013, at the height of Obama’s deliberation over Syria, Trump tweeted: “President Obama, do not attack Syria. There is no upside and tremendous downside. Save your "powder" for another (and more important) day!”

This stance is consistent with the positions on Syria that Trump held during his election campaign: He repeatedly insisted that Syria was not America’s problem and said he had no problem with Russia taking over the issue and supporting the Assad regime. Just last week, two senior officials in his administration – White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley – said that the U.S. was no longer officially committed to taking down Assad’s regime.

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