We all know Donald Trump is sensitive to what he sees on TV. But rather than displaying thin skin about comedy sketches aimed at him, the American president has now joined the wider world in reacting to this week’s images of a brutal chemical attack in Syria. And in this case, it may shape the first major foreign policy decision of his presidency.
Just one week after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson marked a major shift in U.S. foreign policy by announcing that removing Syrian President Assad from power was no longer Washington's focus, President Trump signaled another reversal yesterday. Speaking alongside King Abdullah II of Jordan, Trump said that after the chemical attack in Idlib, which is believed to have killed at least 70 people, "my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much."
Threats of intervention, however, also risk alienating his own supporters.
Perhaps even more significantly, the shift also concerns Russia. In a speech to the United Nations yesterday, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said Russia "cannot escape responsibility" for the attack, that they "chose to close their eyes to the barbarity." The Guardian wrote that Haley’s speech "was as harsh in tone as anything delivered in the same forum by her predecessor, Samantha Power." She declared that "Assad, Russia, and Iran have no interest in peace," and went as far as suggesting that the U.S. might act unilaterally in Syria.
Is it a coincidence that this latest shift happened simultaneously with the removal of Trump's controversial chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon from the National Security Council? In any case, the wavering on foreign policy is bound to bring criticism from all sides. Many say Trump has no strategy and that this administration is plagued by amateurism. Threats of intervention, however, also risk alienating his own supporters, who believed his presidency would mean an end to U.S. interventionism in the Middle East.
Coming hours before Trump's highly-anticipated meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the latest foreign policy confusion deepens the worries of those who see a White House that seems to shift its stance as fast as the president can switch channels on his TV set.
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