The Slatest

Trump Warns That the U.S. Will Fire “Nice and New and Smart!” Missiles at Syria

U.S. President Donald Trump next to National Security Advisor John Bolton
President Trump receives a briefing from senior military leaders about Syria on April 9, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

On Wednesday morning, President Trump sent out a series of tweets that appeared to warn Russia that strikes against Syria are coming.

The first tweet, sent out around 7 a.m. Wednesday, was in response to a statement, reported Tuesday, from the Russian ambassador to Lebanon, who warned that missiles fired by U.S. allies at Syria in response to an alleged April 7 chemical weapons attack would be shot down.

“Get ready Russia,” Trump warned, “because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!”

The surprisingly aggressive tone toward Russia was contradicted roughly 40 minutes later, when Trump shot out another tweet wondering just how things got so bad between the two nations.

It’s unclear what happened between the two statements, the first of which told Russia off for being “partners with a Gas Killing Animal” and the second of which can be read as a plaintive plea. “Stop the arms race?”

And then, an hour later, he tweeted again, just to spread the blame around a little more. In an apparent attempt to answer an unspoken question in the preceding tweet, Trump explained that the “bad blood” between the U.S. and Russia originated not in their backing of a war criminal, but in domestic politics.

But it appears it was the first tweet that was met with the most immediate outrage by critics who remembered Trump’s statements, repeated often during the campaign, blasting President Obama and other past presidents for saying what military actions they were planning to take. Twitter users were quick to dig up relevant Trump tweets from 2013:

The statements come four days after a suspected chemical attack, which activists say killed dozens of people. Syria and Russia have denied that the attack occurred.

Trump cancelled a trip to Latin America to deal with the response to the attack, which crossed what Trump and Obama have called a “red line.” Around a year ago, a similar suspected chemical attack prompted the U.S. to order airstrikes on Syria, in the first direct military action targeting the Assad regime.

After the more recent suspected chemical attack, the Trump administration reportedly discussed a joint military response with France and the U.K., according to the Associated Press. Russian politicians warned the U.S. that an airstrike against Syria would be viewed as a war crime and could lead to a direct military conflict.

On Sunday, Trump on Twitter blamed Putin for backing “Animal Assad,” in what appears to be his first instance of criticizing Putin by name. At the same time, he blamed Syria’s actions on Obama’s policies in office, and in particular on his failure to order strikes on Syria after a chemical attack during his presidency.

Despite the aggressive nature of Trump’s earliest tweet on Wednesday, his words should not be taken as a guarantee of military action. As Slate’s Joshua Keating noted, Trump has had a notably unpredictable, shifting Syria policy since the beginning of his presidency.