White House Sends Confusing Messages on Syria Barrel Bombs

Spicer Threatens Intervention Over Bombs, Officials Say Policy Unchanged

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s tendency to improvise when asked questions about US policy has sparked a new round of speculation about exactly where the Trump Administration stands of launching further attacks against Syria, after he declared barrel bombs to be a red line.

Asked about red lines by the press, Spicer insisted that “if you put a barrel bomb into innocent people you will see a response from this president.” He went on to brag about Trump’s decisiveness in having attacked Syria last week, and insisted that there were many red lines, but that Trump didn’t want to make them all public knowledge.

Launching attacks over “gas attacks,” even accused ones without an investigation, appears to be roughly in line with past stated policy. Barrel bombs, however, are conventional munitions, and threatening to attack Syria over conventional attacks during a civil war would be something else entirely.

Unsurprisingly, the White House appeared to back away from Spicer’s declaration a few hours later, issuing a statement insisting US policy toward Syria has not changed at all, and that Trump retains the option of attacking Syria whenever he feels like it is “in the national interest.” This statement mentioned chemical weapons but did not mention barrel bombs, saying Trump doesn’t want to “telegraph” what justifications he would use for future attacks.

The real sticking point on understanding US policy in Syria, however, is less about the conflict statements from the officials who have talked about it, but the fact that President Trump has conspicuously been totally silent on what his policy is, raising doubts over whether even he knows what he’s going to do next.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for Antiwar.com. He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.