The crew at MSNBC's "Morning Joe" reacted to the Trump administration's threat of military action against Syria by warning that it was "bizarre" and "naive," particularly since U.S. military officials indicate they have no idea what Trump is talking about.
The host and guests of MSNBC's "Morning Joe" expressed alarm and concern over an overnight threat of military action from the Trump administration toward Syria.
The statement, issued late Monday night, accused the Assad regime of preparing for a chemical attack on civilians and threatened that Assad "will pay a heavy price" for such an attack:
The United States has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children. The activities are similar to preparations the regime made before its April 4, 2017 chemical weapons attack.
As we have previously stated, the United States is in Syria to eliminate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. If, however, Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price.
BuzzFeed reported that five U.S. defense officials "said they did not know where the potential chemical attack would come from," including one official from U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) who told the outlet he had "no idea" about its origin.
On Tuesday's "Morning Joe," former George W. Bush chief of staff Andy Card called the saber-rattling "bizarre," adding, "I can't imagine that a statement like this would have gone out without having been cleared by defense, state, and the intelligence community."
Card also said the spin from the Trump administration, who argued that the statement would act as a deterrent to a Syrian attack was "naïve," pointing out that the statement undermined credibility by stating military action was imminent without evidence.
Host Joe Scarborough said Donald Trump should have consulted his Defense secretary and CENTCOM before making broad, antagonizing statements of this sort, while his co-host Mika Brzezinski concluded, "I think this is going to have consequences in a big way, especially with our allies."
BRZEZINSKI: Andy, before we jump into health care, I'm just curious: This ominous warning put out by the White House unexpectedly about Syria, what questions do you have about that?
CARD: Have the State Department, the Defense Department, the intelligence community been engaged in this for a little while? Or is this the first time they're hearing about this as well?
SCARBOROUGH: We've got reports of the D.O.D that no.
CARD: That's the bizarre thing. This is a call to action or a threat of action without understanding if there's an underlying cause.
SCARBOROUGH: CENTCOM, yesterday, reports that CENTCOM, who would be on the tip of the spear, was caught off guard by this.
CARD: I find it bizarre, and I can't imagine that a statement like this would have gone out without having been cleared by Defense, State, and the intelligence community.
SCARBOROUGH: But clearly it wasn't though.
BRZEZINSKI: Are we hearing that there is any possibility that anybody cleared it?
CARD: I haven't heard it.
GEIST: The argument from the White House after the fact, when they were pushed on this, it said it's a deterrent. They say if it stops Assad, from doing a chemical attack, then we've done our job. Does that strike you as an effective way to proceed with national security?
CARD: Maybe, but it's naive. Because it doesn't allow for an underlying sense of credibility that the problem even exists. It might be self stated. We're going in, and we should know and our allies should expect better from us.
BARNICLE: Especially, this is coming from an administration where the president, both as candidate and as president, would repeatedly attack the Obama administration for announcement of troop withdrawals. "I'm not telling the enemy what we're doing. I never tell any enemy what we're doing. I like surprises. I want to keep them on their toes." And this basically, as you said, is "we're coming."
CARD: It's also unfair to the American people, because now our expectations are raised that something is going to happen. and there may be no justification for anything happening.
SCARBOROUGH: Talk to your secretary of Defense first, Mika. Talk to James Mattis first. Let him talk to CENTCOM. Let them come up with a plan and figure out what you can say and what you cannot say.
BRZEZINSKI: I think this is going to have consequences in a big way, especially with our allies.
The New York Times also reported that "several military officials were caught off guard by the statement," because "it was unclear how closely held the intelligence regarding a potential chemical attack was."
The traditional tactic on such grave national security issues is for the military or intelligence agencies to inform the president and the executive branch, who responds based on the possible threat. The Trump release gives the appearance of the White House concocting its own reasons for military action without expert input.
The bellicose Trump provocation comes as he has been swept up in a maelstrom of negative news and attention.
His already under water approval rating has precipitously declined, down 6 percent in Gallup's polling from the last 6 days to 36 percent approval.
The Senate health care bill he endorses was scored by the Congressional Budget Office, which projected that at least 22 million would lose health insurance, in conjunction with a $770 billion cut in Medicaid — despite his campaign promise to keep the program safe.
Some of his fellow Republicans have begun to announce opposition to the legislation, while Trump has ordered his White House to cut off press access as questions mount.
The ongoing probes into his dealings with Russia are also clearly on his mind, since he keeps incessantly tweeting about them.
Months ago, Trump launched airstrikes against Syria — which turned out to be strategically questionable, at best — as part of a gambit to get negative headlines off the front pages. A member of his administration even referred to the missile attacks as "after-dinner entertainment."
It isn't a stretch to see this press release as part of a campaign to clean the slate once again, and the warnings from the usually silent military apparatus should be a gigantic caution sign for what may soon come.