President Donald Trump just tweeted a warning that an attack on Syria is imminent — breaking his own policy of not signaling upcoming military moves.
The tweet comes as Trump weighs how to punish Damascus after President Bashar al-Assad’s forces carried out an April 7 chemical attack on civilians, killing at least 40 people. Trump promised a big response and has consulted with his national security team and foreign leaders for days about whether, and how hard, to strike Assad.
It seems Trump has made up his mind. “Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday morning. “Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’ You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”
According to a New York Times report on Tuesday evening, the administration may strike multiple targets over multiple days. Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Zasypkin, on Tuesday said any missiles the US launches at Syria could be shot down, perhaps by the Russia military.
That, in part, may be the reason Trump sent his threatening tweet early on Wednesday.
Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 11, 2018
Let’s step back for one moment and realize the gravity of what happened. This is the leader of a global superpower speaking nonchalantly about launching a military strike that could kill soldiers from Syria and Russia, another nuclear-armed country and staunch Syrian ally. It’s unsettling that Trump made this kind of statement at all — and it’s even more jarring that he tweeted it.
But there’s more going on here. For one, Trump said the missiles headed toward Syria include some that are “smart.” That’s likely a reference to US smart bombs that, typically, can evade missile-defense systems and then precisely hit a target. The problem is that it’s likely Russia and Syria know what kind of smart bombs America has — and can now plan for their imminent use.
“Smart missiles should fly toward terrorists, not legal government,” a spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry said after Trump’s tweet.
Trump has also promised time and time again that he doesn’t telegraph US military moves because doing so gives the enemy an unnecessary advantage. Yet Trump broke his own rule with this tweet, letting Russia, Syria, and the rest of the world know that a missile strike is on the way.
That still didn’t stop him from making an overture to Russia in his very next tweet, though, in hopes of improving relations.
Our relationship with Russia is worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War. There is no reason for this. Russia needs us to help with their economy, something that would be very easy to do, and we need all nations to work together. Stop the arms race?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 11, 2018
Trump has made no secret of his desire for better ties with Moscow, a desire Russian President Vladimir Putin doesn’t share. Still, it’s odd to try and make friends with Russia right after you threaten its key ally and its troops with death and destruction.
So to recap: Trump threatened Russia, signaled an attack on its allies in Syria, and then tried to improve relations with the Kremlin. That’s quite a lot for one morning and two tweets.