President Donald Trump spoke for Americans and for people all over the world when he opened his joint news conference with Jordan’s King Abdullah II Wednesday by addressing the suspected chemical attack that has killed at least 72, including 10 children, in northern Syria.
Trump specifically cited the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as being responsible for the carnage caused by Tuesday’s dawn raid. Victims being treated in Turkey told CNN they saw planes dropping chemical bombs.
“A chemical attack that was so horrific in Syria against innocent people, including women, small children, and even beautiful little babies, their deaths was an affront to humanity. These heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated,” Trump said.
The question the president faces is the same one that confronted his predecessor, Barack Obama. What should the United States do about Assad? Just last week, three top officials in the Trump administration said that ousting Assad was not a priority or that it was not politically feasible.
We hope that the horrific events in Syria are a wake-up call to the president about the life-and-death importance of foreign policy. To his credit, Trump said today that Syria “is now my responsibility.” That marked a change in course; he had pointed the finger at Obama on Tuesday.
These heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated.
President Donald Trump
Throughout its history and especially since World War II, America has been a beacon for human rights and democracy. But thus far, Trump has taken taken our foreign policy in a different direction, one where dictators are welcome.
Moreover, Trump has been been colluding with Russia and Vladimir Putin on a Syria policy that focuses on defeating the Islamic State and ignores Assad’s record of brutality.
And on days without horrible, heartbreaking images – like those of the dead Syrian children in a pile, half-naked and staring into space – the Trump White House doesn’t shy at all from giving its blessing to autocrats.
Just Monday, Trump praised Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, who seized power in a 2013 military coup. Obama barred him from the White House, but Trump gave him the honor of a handshake in the Oval Office.
“He’s done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation,” Trump said, which would be shocking to opponents who fill his prisons or the loved ones of protestors who have been gunned down in the street by el-Sisi’s security forces.
At his Mar-a-Lago resort on Thursday when Trump meets Chinese President Xi Jinping for the first time, human rights isn’t likely to be near the top of the agenda, either. Trump wants to talk about trade and North Korea, not about China’s crackdown on dissent and its political prisoners.
Then there is Trump’s mysterious relationship with Putin and Russia. He is far less critical of the Putin regime – despite its annexation of Crimea, its aggression in Ukraine and its interference in the U.S presidential election – than our loyal NATO allies, who he says don’t spend enough on defense.
By treating foreign policy like real estate deals, Trump has been calculating that fighting “radical Islamic terrorism,” as he insists on calling it, is more important than confronting murderous strongmen or standing up for human rights.
But when you embrace strongmen, you’re stained when they revert to their true character. Whatever voters wanted from Trump, they surely didn’t want him to align America with dictators who have the blood of innocents on their hands.
We look forward to seeing what the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress have in store for Assad and his longtime protector, Putin.