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Trump Ratchets Up The Rhetoric Over Attack On Syrian Civilians


Trump this morning is ratcheting up his language and sounding more specific about what he may do in response to a reported chemical attack in Syria. The president tweeted this morning that if Russia is prepared to shoot down any American missiles fired at Syria, quote, "get ready, Russia, because they will be coming nice and new and smart" - end quote. Russia has just responded to the president. A foreign ministry spokeswoman said, quote, "smart missiles should fly towards terrorists, not legal government." Let's bring in NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Hi, Mara.


GREENE: All right. So this is a president who has made a big deal of not showing his hand, especially when it comes to really important decisions as commander in chief. So what exactly is he doing here? Is he declaring that he's - there's an impending missile strike?

LIASSON: Yes, he is. He's doing exactly what he criticized Obama for doing. He said earlier this week, we'll tell you what we do after the fact. He's often said he doesn't like to broadcast in advance what he would do in terms of military strikes. But here he is taunting Putin - just like he did when he tweeted to Kim Jong Un, my button is bigger than yours. So he's doing the exact same thing that he criticized his...

GREENE: Well...

LIASSON: ...Predecessors for doing.

GREENE: ...And, I mean, Trump was critical of President Obama's red line in Syria, I mean, suggesting it was crazy to draw a red line if you weren't sure that you were going to act. I mean, he's almost creating his own red line in a way.

LIASSON: There's no doubt about it. As a matter of fact, almost exactly a year ago when he called for that limited missile strike against a Syrian airfield, at the time he said this shows that when I put a red line in the sand I really mean it and Obama didn't act. Well, it turns out that strike - that limited strike - didn't deter the Syrians and the Russians and the Iranians from using chemical weapons. It might have deterred them for a while, but now they've done it again. So this creates a tension. He's going to have to do something - some of military strike - that's more expansive than last year's. The question is what will it be? Will it actually do the trick? Because right now, he has also announced that he wants to get out of Syria - something he also criticized Obama for, for saying in advance when you're going to be leaving a country.

So did that encourage the Syrians and the Russians and the Iranians to think that they could use chemical weapons with impunity or did it lead them to call his bluff? You know, he says he wants to get out. And here he is possibly doing something that's going to draw him in more.

GREENE: All right. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. We appreciate it, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.