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The White House's Syria Statement Creates More Questions Than Answers

Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Press Secretary Sean Spicer released a cryptic statement late Monday night saying the U.S. had evidence Bashar Al-Assad’s regime was planning another chemical weapons attack, and Syria should expect retaliation if they go through with their plan.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley later tweeted, “Any further attacks done to the people of Syria will be blamed on Assad, but also on Russia & Iran who support him killing his own people.”

Two days later, little information has emerged except that there might have been planes taking off from the airbase that launched the previous attack.

National security expert Juliette Kayyem joined BPR to talk about the implications of the White House’s scattered announcement.

“This tweet or statement by the White House really did come out of the blue,” she said. “No one was anticipating it.”

Kayyem called it “tough talk” and said it raises the bar in new ways. Part of this, she explained, is that Haley’s tweet references Russia and Iran.

“Our primary goal in Syria,” she explained, “is clearly the fight against ISIS, which is going relatively well.”

Russia and Iran have supported the Assad regime during the ongoing conflict in Syria, but have also backed U.S. efforts to combat ISIS. Kayyem voiced her concerns about those references to the two countries in the statements from Spicer and Haley earlier this week.

Kayyem also explained how the Trump administration’s combative relationship to the intelligence community is affecting the public’s perceptions of the “red line” against possible Syrian chemical weapons attacks.

“The consequences of a president going after his intelligence community ... is a certain amount of skepticism about statements like that,” she said. “Where does this info come from? Why do we now trust the intelligence committees and what is the game plan? Is this really a line, and what does it mean to say that we will actually take action against Syrian forces?”

Kayyem said the confusion and wariness are warranted given the present inconsistencies.

“They’re playing a game,” she said, “and I think it’s fair to question what game they’re playing.”

Juliette Kayyem is the founder of Kayyem Solutions, host of the SCIF podcast and a contributor to WGBH and CNN. To hear her interview in its entirety, click on the audio player above.

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