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Zirpoli: Trump has forgotten his own advice and campaign platform

Prior to his authorization of the bombing of a Syrian military airbase, President Donald Trump stated that Syria's attack on their own civilians with chemical weapons "crosses many, many lines — beyond a red line, many, many lines." At least 80 people in Syria, many of them children, died from the chemical weapon attack.

The Syrian government has been dropping bombs and using poison gas on their civilians for years, killing thousands of men, women and children. The Trump administration was unable to articulate what the "many lines" in Syria were that had not already been crossed, multiple times, including a chemical weapons attack in 2013 that killed over a thousand people.

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President Barack Obama resisted getting involved in the Syrian conflict after the use of chemical weapons in 2013. After all, he was trying to get the United States out of Iraq and Afghanistan. The last thing he wanted was to engage the United States in a third war in Syria. Still, many criticized Obama for not standing up to the Syrian government, especially after warning them about the use of chemical weapons. When Obama asked Congress to authorize an attack on Syria, Congress refused. They knew, as Obama knew, that the American people had no appetite for a third war.

Neither did Donald Trump before he was president. In 2013 when Obama was considering military intervention against Syria for using chemical weapons, Trump not only tweeted his disapproval of America's involvement there, but on August 30, 2013, Trump tweeted, "The President must get Congressional approval before attacking Syria — big mistake if he does not!"

As president, however, Trump did not seek Congressional approval and, besides, that would spoil a surprise attack. Interestingly, Trump did warn the Russian government prior to the Thursday night attack. Did Trump really believe the Russians would not alert their friends in Syria?

On August 29, 2013, Trump tweeted, "Why do we keep broadcasting when we are going to attack Syria. Why can't we just be quiet and, if we attack at all, catch them by surprise?" Reporters can now ask Trump these same questions.

Trump believed that a U.S. attack on Syria would be "foolish." On Sept. 5, 2013, he tweeted, "Again, to our very foolish leader, do not attack Syria — if you do many very bad things will happen & from that fight the U.S. gets nothing!" On Sept. 7, 2013, Trump tweeted, "President Obama, do not attack Syria. There is no upside and tremendous downside. Save your 'powder' for another (and more important) day!"

Trump used to believe that dealing with Syria should be left up to other Arab countries. On August 29, 2013, Trump tweeted, "Let the Arab League take care of Syria. Why are these rich Arab countries not paying us for the tremendous cost of such an attack?"

The 59 Tomahawk missiles Trump delivered to Syria cost about $1 million each. Does this mean Trump will be sending a $59 million bill to some "other Arab countries"?

During the presidential campaign Trump ran on an anti-interventionist, "America First" platform. He criticized candidate Hilary Clinton for wanting "to start a shooting war in Syria that could very well lead to World War III" when she suggested grounding the Syrian air force.

Many conservatives have criticized Trump's military action in Syrian. After all, they say, isn't that what Clinton would have done (and, in fact, recommended) and what we voted against? For example, conservative commentator Ann Coulter tweeted, "Trump campaigned on not getting involved in Mideast. Said it always helps our enemies & creates more refugees." and "Missiles flying, Rubio's happy. McCain ecstatic. Hillary's on board. A complete policy change in 48 hrs."

Coulter should know that the president doesn't have any deep convictions about Syria. He banned all refugees from Syria so he is not really interested in helping the Syrian people. And two days before the chemical attack, the Trump administration announced that they were not interested in toppling the Syrian government. President Trump seems to be driven by what he sees on television at the moment, and if those images make him look weak or strong. Besides, in America, nothing increases your failing polls numbers more than a little military action, even "foolish" military action you decried just a few years ago.

President Trump seems to have forgotten the advice he gave to President Obama. But I'm glad that President Trump is now expressing some concern about the plight of the Syrian people. Perhaps he will soften his ban on all refugees from Syria to allow some of the victims of the war there, innocent women and children, into the United States for treatment and refuge.

Tom Zirpoli writes from Westminster. He is program coordinator for the Human Services Management program at McDaniel College. His column appears Wednesdays. Email him at tzirpoli@mcdaniel.edu.

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