Tuesday, April 11, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He saw his press secretary inadvertently draw attention to the gap between his rhetoric on Syria and what he is capable of doing about Syria.

In comments that have provoked immediate calls for his firing, Sean Spicer favorably compared Adolf Hitler to Bashar al-Assad, saying that even Hitler didn't "sink to using chemical weapons." When it was pointed out that Hitler had, of course, used gas weapons in concentration camps, Spicer maintained that the use of gas in "Holocaust centers"--by which he apparently meant concentration camps--was somehow better than their use in open warfare. 

That was the first of at least four revisions from Spicer and other White House officials, who continued throughout the day to try to walk them back. For example, the second revision referred to Assad's attacks on "innocent people," but that was changed to "population centers" in the third--in part because Donald Trump himself has long maintained that anti-Assad forces are far from innocent, and indeed constitute terrorist threats against the United States. "Remember, all these ‘freedom fighters’ in Syria want to fly planes into our buildings," Trump tweeted in 2013, a week after hundreds of Syrians died in a different Assad regime chemical weapon attack.

Statements diminishing Hitler's atrocities are not entirely unexpected or unprecedented from the Trump White House, but the real reason for this kind of extreme language seems to be that Trump has almost entirely boxed himself in. His tacit support for Assad's attacks on "population centers" with conventional weapons is no longer politically viable, but he cannot take more than token military actions against Syria without effectively entering the Syrian civil war on the side of people he regards as anti-American terrorists.

So what?

  • At this point, it's not entirely clear that Trump knows which side of the Syrian civil war he wants to be on.
  • Even presidents who weren't elected with the open support of neo-Nazis should be able to justify their actions without rehabilitating Hitler in the process.