Last night, the White House issued a surprise statement accusing the Syrian government of preparing a chemical weapons attack and threatening to make them pay “a heavy price” for doing so. This immediately suggested another US attack on Syria was imminent. No one saw this coming, including the Pentagon and the State Department.
Pentagon officials say they were totally unaware if this putative evidence of a chemical attack until the moment the White House issued the statement, something they completely didn’t see coming. The State Department, which would normally be involved in coordinating such an important press release, also wasn’t consulted.
Indeed, such an announcement would normally involve myriad security agencies, including the Pentagon, State Department, and intelligence agencies, particularly whoever was the source of the allegation about Syria in the first place. All signs, however, are that this wasn’t the case with anyone, and they’re not even sure where Trump got the idea that a chemical attack might be imminent.
The White House has since offered a secondary comment insisting that all of the officials who are quoted in the media saying they didn’t know about the announcement are lying, and that the White House did, somehow, consult with everybody without anybody knowing about it.
The only person who may conceivably have been in the loop is US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who almost immediately after the White House statement Tweeted that any future attacks in Syria would be blamed on Assad, Russia, and Iran.
This too gives the impression that last night’s brief, evidence-free statement was mostly a pretext for picking a fight in Syria, and the fact that it came mere hours after Secretary of State Tillerson spoke with the Russian Foreign Minister about a new ceasefire gives the appearance this was a none-too-subtle way of turning that proposal down.