Last week, Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad could remain in power, signaling that the Trump administration was departing from the long-standing U.S. policy demanding Al-Assad to resign. The message also sent a clear message to Assad that he had a green light to punish his opponents at will.
Last week in Turkey, Tillerson said:
“I think the status and the longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.”
Then the unthinkable happened.
On Tuesday, dozens died in a chemical attack on Syrian civilians that experts said was committed by Assad’s regime. Hundreds were hospitalized.
Following Syria’s chemical attack, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said Wednesday that he doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that the chemical weapons attack in Syria occurred shortly after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggested Al-Assad could remain in power.
“In this case now, we have very limited options and look, it’s concerning that the secretary of state, 72 hours ago or a week ago, last Friday, said that the future’s up to the people in Syria on what happens with Assad,” Rubio said on the show “AM Tampa Bay.”
“Assad now believes, and sadly he may be right, that he can gas his people with sarin, kill children, kill innocent civilians. People will complain, there’ll be a meeting at the UN Security Council and then life will go on and he’ll stay in power,” he said. “He’s made that calculation. The Russians support him on it. China is indifferent. And I hate to say this, I think he’s gonna get away with it again.”
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a few days later we see this,” Rubio concluded.
Other lawmakers, such as fellow Republican Sen. John McCain, have also rebuked Tillerson and the Trump administration. McCain said on CNN’s “New Day” that he was sure that the Assad regime was “encouraged to know that the United States is withdrawing” from the conflict.
And it gets worse.
North Korea recently fired a ballistic missile into the sea off the Korean Peninsula, the latest in a series of test firings and one that comes just days before President Donald Trump is set to huddle with Chinese President Xi Jinping for a two-day summit in Florida.
Here’s what Tillerson, aka the nation’s top diplomat, had to say about the latest provocation from North Korea:
“The United States has spoken enough about North Korea, we have no further comment.”
That’s a total of 23 words. Twenty-three words that leave you more confused when you get to the end of them than when you started.
Is Tillerson trying to talk tough? Or is he refusing to give North Korea the attention he thinks they’re trying to grab in advance of the US-China meeting? Somewhere in between? Neither? Both?
The statement reads like a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. It’s a head-scratcher.
Tillerson’s remarks are eerily similar to the reckless tough talk coming from Trump.
This kind of vagueness coming from the U.S. top diplomat is a dangerous thing. Words matter. Misunderstandings can cause international incidents —or worse.
How will North Korea and China interpret Tillerson’s comments? As a provocation? A dismissal? Something else entirely? That uncertainty is the point.
Tillerson is the leading edge of America foreign policy. As such, his most important job is to ensure that other countries know exactly where the US stands when a major international event occurs. His statement Tuesday night suggests he simply doesn’t grasp just how diplomacy works.