Even for a president known for impulsiveness and unpredictability, Donald Trump’s decision to launch military strikes in Syria yesterday was an extraordinary—and even curious—development.
For nearly six years, Trump has argued passionately against U.S. military involvement in Syria. He has asserted that Syria is “not our problem,” insisted that those who advocate intervening there could “lead us into World War III,” and has instead supported alignment with Russia and Syrian President Bashar Assad in their fight against Islamic State terrorists. Only last week, top Trump administration officials announced that it was no longer U.S. policy to seek the ouster of Assad.
Yet suddenly, after watching the carnage of a chemical weapons attack that killed some 80 Syrians, Trump has proclaimed that his “view of Assad and Syria has changed very much” and authorized the first direct U.S. attack on Syrian military facilities since the start of the country’s civil war. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in stark contrast to his statement last week that Assad’s fate was up to the Syrian people, now says there is “no role" for Assad to govern the Syrian people and that “steps are underway” to remove him from power.