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Trump’s massive flip-flop on Syria, explained by the American Chopper meme

Trump used to think bombing Syria was a really bad idea. Now he’s doing the bombing.

Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

Back in August 2013, the first time Bashar al-Assad deployed chemical weapons against his people on a large scale, Donald Trump repeatedly said the US shouldn’t bomb Syria in response. In a series of tweets spanning about a month, the future commander in chief warned President Barack Obama that a strike would be (among other things) a pointless waste of money that risked civilian casualties and broader escalation.

“Don’t attack Syria — an attack that will bring nothing but trouble for the US,” Trump wrote. “Focus on making our country strong and great again!”

That was then. When Assad used chemical weapons against civilians in April 2017 and again just this past week, Trump chose to bomb Syria. Perhaps the best way I’ve seen to visualize the jarring contrast between Trump’s past and present is through this American Chopper meme, made by Twitter user @hrtbps.

The meme, often deployed to display arguments, stages a debate between Trump’s 2013 tweets and his 2018 comments about his own strike:

It’s perfectly fine for people to change their minds. All sorts of different presidents come into office with one set of ideas about policy and change their minds based on new information or events. Barack Obama, for example, came into office vowing to pull US troops out of Iraq — and then ended up bulking up the US presence there after ISIS became a major threat.

But the American Chopper meme reminds us, by staging a fake argument, just how wide the gulf is between what Trump thought after the 2013 chemical attack and what he thinks today. Businessman Trump insisted that the president should get legal authorization from Congress before launching a strike; President Trump just attacked Syria without it.

Trump used to think an attack could have dangerous consequences; now he’s touting the success of the bombing raid with a jaunty “Mission Accomplished!” even though there’s no reason to think it dealt a death blow to Assad’s chemical weapons program or persuaded the Syrian dictator not to use them in the future.

We’ve never, as far as I recall, heard the president himself detail the reason for his radical change of heart on all these different facets of the Syria intervention question. Given that he’s sent US troops into combat, and may well do so again if there’s another chemical attack, it’s time that someone asks him the question.

Correction: This piece originally credited the American Chopper meme to a Facebook user, who had in fact reposted it. Twitter user @hrtbps is the actual creator.

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