Another Trump-Is-Incompetent Story Burns Out in Less Than a Day

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Junker and European Council President Donald Tusk at European Union headquarters, Thursday, May 25, 2017, in Brussels. From left, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Trump, and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Late Monday evening, the Trump administration took an unprecedented step of warning Syria’s Assad that they knew he was planning a chemical strike and that he should best think two or three times before going ahead with it. And it warned Russia and Iran that they would be held jointly responsible if the attack took place.


The United States has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children. The activities are similar to preparations the regime made before its April 4, 2017 chemical weapons attack.”

As we have previously stated, the United States is in Syria to eliminate the Islamic State Of Iraq and Syria. If, however, Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price.

Shortly after this statement was released, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley weighed in:

Despite getting good reviews from arms control experts, the Trump-is-stupid bandwagon cranked into high gear:

(Full disclosure, I’ve met Ackerman once–it was quite enough–and found him to be a noxious little poseur, a wannabe strategist without the guts to ever take the hard step of joining the military.)


And, naturally, the Most Slappable Face On the InternetTM chimed in

Naturally, as Trump is stupid and evil, therefore anything he does is stupid and evil. Even a child could understand this.

There are two problems with the theory. The first is that because unreliable people who leak regularly to anti-administration media didn’t know it was coming didn’t mean that people who needed to know didn’t know about it. The second is that if Nikki Haley weighed in, then obviously Rex Tillerson knew about it. If Tillerson knew about it, then senior policy advisers at State knew. And if Tillerson knew, then McMaster knew. And if McMaster knew, then Mattis knew. And both McMaster and Mattis were raised in an environment where staff coordination is the coin of the realm In fact, if this goof had bothered to read his own tweet, he could have saved himself a self-beclowning.


There was a hint that the narrative was crashing and burning. leads with the BuzzFeed rumor but gives another side:

  • A “White House official” clarified via a Tuesday morning pool report that “all relevant agencies–including State, DoD, CIA and ODNI–were involved in the process from the beginning. Anonymous leaks to the contrary are false.”
  • To back up the White House, Reuters reported earlier that U.S. and allied intelligence officers “had for some time identified several sites where they suspected Assad’s government may have been hiding newly made chemical weapons from inspectors,” according to a “U.S. official familiar with the intelligence.”
  • The Pentagon confirmed Tuesday that the “US has seen chemical weapons activity at Syrian air base used in past chemical attack.”

By yesterday afternoon, Politico had the tick-tock:

President Donald Trump’s blunt, public warning to the Syrian regime late Monday night was cobbled together in a series of hurried discussions, squeezed in between meetings with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — and kept among a small, tight circle of top officials.

Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson both arrived at the White House late Monday afternoon, ahead of the Rose Garden ceremony at which Trump and Modi each read a prepared statement. Upon the Cabinet members’ arrival, according to a senior defense official, they were informed of Trump’s plan to issue a public warning to Syrian President Bashar Assad, based on new intelligence that the Syrian regime was preparing another chemical weapons attack on its own people.

National security adviser H.R. McMaster, who also was at the White House for meetings, had already been briefed and had weighed in on the plan, administration sources said.

But no stand-alone principals meeting followed to discuss the intelligence, which Trump received Monday morning, according to two senior administration officials.

Rather, over the course of the day, officials said, McMaster, Mattis, Tillerson and a few other top officials had the opportunity to “work the language” of the statement, in between meetings with Modi. None of them expressed any hesitation or disagreement about the decision to issue a public warning, according to one of the senior administration officials.


As Tony Badran of Across the Bay said:

In fact, it bears a striking resemblance to the decision to launch a missile attack on Syria in April. Trump was with the Chinese president. McMaster coordinated the strike. Defense carried it out. State, particularly in the person of Nikki Haley, was more than ready for the politics of the attack. It was handled very quickly and by a very small number of decision makers who passed on the strike orders to CENTCOM.

And we got precisely the same critique in April.

What we are seeing is the emerging trademark of how the Trump national security team works. This is not five-dimensional chess. This is basic, textbook staff work and interagency coordination combined with a president who trusts his National Security Team enough to not second guess them. And it isn’t bad.

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