Priebus: Syria strike reflects ‘Trump Doctrine’

Olivier Knox
Chief Washington Correspondent
President Trump at the Holocaust Memorial Museum’s National Days of Remembrance ceremony. (Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s decision to rain cruise missiles on a Syrian military base early this month and to set aside trade disputes with China to enlist Beijing’s help on North Korea reflect an emerging “Trump Doctrine,” White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said Tuesday.

Priebus’ remarks about the April 7 strike on Syria, which came in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack that killed civilians, including children, were made to reporters in his West Wing office as he defended Trump’s record at the symbolic “100 Days” mark.

Trump, Priebus said, has been “reshaping our position in the world” and “really establishing, I think, a Trump Doctrine in setting some certain lines of where we’re not going to allow people like [Syrian President Bashar] Assad to go, but at the same time making it clear that we’re not interested in long-term, you know, ground wars in the Middle East.”

Another example Priebus gave of the emerging doctrine is Trump’s enlisting China to try to rein in North Korea, a “very real” challenge “that takes cooperation within the region to handle appropriately,” Priebus said. Trump has justified his decision not to label Beijing a currency manipulator — a key campaign pledge — because, he says, Chinese President Xi Jinping has worked with him on North Korea.

Many experts agree that China has not manipulated its currency to gain unfair advantages for its exports in years, but in an interview this week with the Associated Press, Trump claimed China had stopped doing so “since my time” in office.

Trump’s decision to strike Syria — a reversal of sorts from his campaign-trail focus on fighting the Islamic State and largely ignoring Assad — has drawn largely positive reviews from members of Congress and from allies. At the same time, critics have raised questions about both the effectiveness of the strike and on whether Assad will face consequences for killing civilians through other means. Some of Trump’s supporters have complained that it amounts to the kind of interventionism he rejected in 2016, and lawmakers like Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul have said he should have secured congressional approval for the strike.

With Trump’s performance under fire, the president has been in search of legislative and court victories. The emergence of the so-called Trump Doctrine, however, raises still more questions about its scope. Asked for clarification of what the philosophy entails, a senior administration official said that it means Trump “believes in America first. It also means that he loves people, and he knows that there are certain things that some people do that are unacceptable, like the nerve gas attack in Syria.”

“I think he’s someone that’s going to stick to his guns on ISIS and making sure that we don’t sit around loose and lax and let a country like North Korea continue to proliferate nuclear weapons and grow to a point where we’re simply reacting to an ICBM one day after we wake up and realize that we haven’t done anything for fear of some other alternative,” said the official, who requested to remain anonymous.

“So I think it’s a combination of very good personal skills — one-on-one — which he’s incredibly talented, and it’s a commitment to the goals of the campaign, which is defeating ISIS, and it’s a commitment to people that there are certain things that the United States isn’t going to put up with,” the official said.

What’s clear about the Trump Doctrine is that it is still emerging, and the official also described the standoff with North Korea as “probably a little bit more volatile than people were initially anticipating.”

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