"If he had indeed murdered Assad, then the Middle East, and the fate of U.S. soldiers in the region, would have exploded into even more violence and chaos," said one anti-war advocate.
In an apparent admission about a previous lie that alarmed anti-war advocates, President Donald Trump claimed in Tuesday television appearance that he wanted to assassinate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad—contradicting his past denial of the desire, which was first revealed in journalist Bob Woodward’s 2018 book Fear.
Woodward reported that not long after Assad used chemical weapons on Syrian civilians in April 2017, Trump told then-Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis: “Let’s fucking kill him! Let’s go in. Let’s kill the fucking lot of them.” After hanging up with the president, Mattis—who announced his resignation the following year—told a senior aide that “we’re not going to do any of that. We’re going to be much more measured.”
Trump initially responded in September 2018 by denying the reporting. However, during a Tuesday “Fox & Friends” interview in which Trump took aim at Woodward’s new book, Rage, the president said he wanted to order Assad’s assassination but Mattis opposed it, then complained about his former Pentagon chief.
“I would have rather taken him out. I had him all set. Mattis didn’t want to do it,” Trump said Tuesday before quickly noting that earlier this year he ordered the assassination of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani, which a top United Nations expert has deemed a violation of internatinal law.
Critics of Trump responded to the interview by not only pointing to it as yet another example of the president’s seemingly endless dishonesty but also condemning his desire to issue an “illegal” and “reckless” order for the United States military to kill the Syrian leader—arguing that human rights abuses by Assad’s government, however brutal, do not give Trump the authority to have him assassinated.
“How ironic that at the very time Trump is trying to position himself as someone making peace in the Middle East, he tells Fox News that he wanted to murder Syrian President Assad but was stopped by his then-Secretary of Defense Mattis,” Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the peace group CodePink, told Common Dreams Wednesday.
Benjamin said that “it’s ridiculous to say that Mattis stopped him,” considering Trump is commander-in-chief. “Such a murder would have been an egregious violation of international law,” she added. “But more importantly, this call to murder Assad, the leader of a sovereign nation, is a disgusting display of Trump’s imperial hubris.”
“It’s bad enough that Trump ordered a drone attack to kill Iran’s top general, Soleimani, which brought us to the brink of war with Iran. If he had indeed murdered Assad, then the Middle East, and the fate of U.S. soldiers in the region, would have exploded into even more violence and chaos,” Benjamin said. “Let’s hope the American people realize how dangerous Trump is to our national security and vote him out in November, before he takes us into the next war.”
Stephen Miles, executive director of the group Win Without War, wrote in a series of tweets that while Mattis is no ally of peace advocates and “Assad is a murderous war criminal who belongs in the Hague,” Trump trying to “assassinate the leader of a foreign country, whom we are not at war with, with no legal authorization is wrong.”
Ben Friedman, policy director at Defense Priorities—a group that supports having “a strong, dynamic military” but also promotes “prioritizing restraint, diplomacy, and free trade to ensure U.S. security”—pointed out that Trump’s confession about Assad contrasts with his claims that he is working to end endless U.S. wars.
“Assassinating Assad is a good idea if you want to make Syria an even bigger humanitarian nightmare, get regime forces to attack Americans, and like doing illegal things,” added Friedman, who is also an adjunct lecturer at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.
CBS News reported the Syrian Foreign Ministry responded to the interview in a statement Wednesday, calling Trump’s comments confirmation “that the U.S. administration is a rogue and outlaw state, and is pursuing the same methods of terrorist organizations, with murder and assassination, without taking into account any legal, humanitarian, or moral controls or rules in order to achieve its interests in the region.”