In the wake of one of the worst chemical weapons attacks to hit Syria in years, Donald Trump appeared to pin the blame for the deaths of at least 58 people—11 of them children—on former president Barack Obama.
The attack, believed to have been carried out by the Syrian government of Bashar al Assad, struck the province of Idlib early Tuesday morning. At least 250 people, including children, were wounded or sickened by the chemical assault, the New York Times reports.
In a statement on behalf of President Trump, White House press secretary Sean Spicer called the attack "reprehensible," stressing that it "cannot be ignored by the civilized world." Then he blamed it on the Obama administration.
"These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the last administration's weakness and irresolution," Spicer said in the statement. "President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a 'a red line' against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing."
It's true that Obama was criticized heavily for not following through on his "red line" pledge and for not taking more decisive action during the Syrian Civil War, which started all the way back in 2011. But Trump himself actually advocated for not getting involved in Syria in the past. And if Obama is "weak" for not going after Assad, the Trump administration has signaled that it has even less interest in deposing the brutal strongman. The UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, called Assad a "war criminal" days ago but said that removing him from power wasn't going to be a "top priority," a sentiment echoed by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
But even though forcing Assad to step down is no longer a central goal for US policy in Syria, Tillerson still used harsh language to condemn him in a statement on Tuesday that went after Assad allies Russia and Iran.
"While we continue to monitor the terrible situation, it is clear that this is how Bashar al-Assad operates: with brutal, unabashed barbarism," Tillerson said. "We call upon Russia and Iran, yet again, to exercise their influence over the Syrian regime and to guarantee that this sort of horrific attack never happens again. As the self-proclaimed guarantors to the ceasefire negotiated in Astana, Russia and Iran also bear great moral responsibility for these deaths."
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