US President Donald Trump has claimed he wanted to “take out” Syrian President Bashar Assad in 2017 but was deterred by then-Defense Secretary James Mattis – after previously denying an assassination was even discussed.
“I would have rather taken [Assad] out,” Trump told Fox & Friends on Tuesday, insisting “I had him all set,” but “Mattis didn’t want to do it.”
The admission flies in the face of Trump’s 2018 claim during a White House briefing that the suggestion of killing Assad was “never even discussed.” Journalist Bob Woodward reported in his 2018 book Fear that Trump was itching to have the Syrian leader assassinated after an alleged chemical weapons attack in 2017 – a claim Trump denounced as “total fiction.”
During the Fox & Friends interview, however, Trump said it was Mattis who stayed his hand, calling the ‘Mad Dog’ general “highly overrated” even as he claimed he didn’t regret not having Assad killed.
I could’ve lived either way with [the proposed assassination]. But I had a shot to take him out if I wanted, and Mattis was against it.
“Mattis was against most of that stuff,” Trump told the channel.
The president went on to blame Mattis for “not doing the job in Syria or Iraq with respect to ISIS [Islamic State / ISIL],” claiming the US “took out 100 percent of ISIS” as well as the terrorist group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, but only after Trump “fired” the general.
He also appeared to lump in Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani with the terrorist group, calling him “the biggest of them all” and bragging about his assassination by airstrike. While the Baghdadi killing was widely praised, the murder of Soleimani – the leader of Iran’s elite Quds Force – was internationally condemned for its potential to further destabilize the Middle East.
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Mattis loudly quit as Trump’s Defense Secretary in December 2018, claiming in his resignation letter that he’d walked out in protest over the president’s efforts to withdraw from Syria and fulfill his campaign promise to wind down the sprawling Middle Eastern conflicts launched by his predecessors.
Trump’s efforts to depict him in retrospect as a reluctant warrior clash with the veteran general’s determination to remain in Syria indefinitely – and with Trump’s own recent condemnation of Pentagon careerists who want nothing but war all the time.
Despite his campaign-trail denunciation of endless wars, however, Trump has kept the US’ Middle Eastern quagmires churning, flooding the Persian Gulf with equipment and personnel supposedly to counter the Iranian “threat.” Earlier this week, Tehran was accused of plotting to murder a US diplomat, supposedly in retaliation for the Soleimani killing eight months ago – a charge the Iranian government has flatly denied.