Commentary — Trump says we are not going into Syria. I hope he knows what he’s talking about. I hope he knows what he is thinking. Nobody else seems to. Members of his administration seem to be biting at the bit to rush into Syria. It’s time to drain the swamp. Starting with his own Cabinet. And his own family. #DrainTheKushnerCesspool.
Amid complaints that his aides are saying different things about Syria and his policy is confusing, President Trump emphatically cleared the air.
“We’re not going into Syria,” he told me yesterday in an exclusive interview. “Our policy is the same — it hasn’t changed. We’re not going into Syria.”
The president, speaking by phone Tuesday, called Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a “butcher” and a “barbarian” for using sarin gas on his own people, but said last week’s successful missile strike was not the start of a campaign to oust the dictator.
“Our big mission is getting rid of ISIS,” Trump said. “That’s where it’s always been. But when you see kids choking to death, you watch their lungs burning out, we had to hit him and hit him hard.”
He called the attack, which involved 59 cruise missiles fired from two Navy destroyers, “an act of humanity.”
I asked if he, as a new president, found it difficult to make the final decision, knowing the stakes.
“It’s very tough to give that final go-ahead when you know you’re talking about human life,” he said. “We went back and forth, and also back and forth about severity. We could have gone bigger in terms of targets and more of them, but we thought this would be the appropriate first shot.”
Later, he added, “We hope he won’t do any more gassing.”
The interview was scheduled to last 15 minutes, but ran nearly twice as long. Throughout, the president was gracious, energized and focused. He answered every question, and invited me to ask more as aides tried to get him to his next appointment. So I did.
How seriously does he take the threats from Russia, and does he think there is still a possibility for cooperation in the region with Vladimir Putin?
“We’re not exactly on the same wavelength with Russia, to put it mildly,” Trump answered. “Putin must see what a barbarian this guy is, and it’s a very bad symbol for Russia with this guy gassing children and using barrel bombs.”
With Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Moscow as we spoke, Trump said he hoped for Putin’s cooperation, but added, “I don’t know.”
He was especially upset that Syria had used chemical weapons after supposedly destroying all its stockpiles under a deal President Obama signed in 2013 and repeatedly boasted about. I asked whether that fact gave him more pause about Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran.
“I don’t need more pause about Iran,” Trump said. “It was the single worst deal ever. It’s a disgrace that a deal like that was even signed. It made Iran a power from a country that was ready to fall apart.”
He wasn’t finished. “Iran won’t honor its deal. Instead of saying, ‘Thank you very much for saving our country,’ they’ve been emboldened.”
Noting those problems and North Korea’s threatening aggression, Trump said, “I knew I was left a mess, but it’s worse than I thought.”
Has he had any recent contact with Obama?
“No,” he said. “I’m very disappointed that I was surveilled and so was my campaign. That’s not supposed to be happening, but I’ve been proven right.”
Although the evidence supporting Trump’s claim that Obama “wiretapped” him is incomplete, there is no question he is the victim of dirty tricks. Numerous leaks suggest that communications involving Trump’s team were intercepted by law enforcement or intelligence agencies and given to anti-Trump media outlets to undermine the new administration.
And the admission last week by Susan Rice, Obama’s national security director, that she asked for the names of some Trump associates to be “unmasked” points to a likely political purpose involving the White House.
Although two congressional committees are probing Trump’s claim, along with whether his campaign colluded with Russian hacking during the campaign, I believe a Justice Department probe of the Obama administration’s surveillance is also needed. At the very least, the leakers of national security material gathered must be found and prosecuted.