Trump now admits he wanted to kill Syria's Assad but Mattis stopped him

"I would've rather taken him out. I had him all set," President Donald Trump said of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

al-monitor US President Donald Trump waits to speak at a roundtable rally with Latino supporters at the Arizona Grand Resort and Spa in Phoenix, Arizona, on Sept. 14, 2020. Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images.

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chemical weapons, james mattis, donald trump, bashar al-assad, assassination

Sep 15, 2020

Contradicting his past claims that assassinating Syria's president was "never discussed," US President Donald Trump said Tuesday he wanted to have Bashar al-Assad killed following a suspected chemical weapons attack, but former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis wouldn't let him. 

"I had him all set. Mattis didn't want to do it," Trump told Fox News, adding that he didn't regret not killing Assad but would have "rather taken him out."

“I could have lived either way with that. You know I considered him certainly not a good person, but I had a shot to take him out if I wanted to, and Mattis was against it,” he said. “Mattis was against most of that stuff.”

But when asked about Assad in September 2018, the president said he didn’t even “contemplate” killing him. 

“Not at all,” Trump told reporters. “I heard somewhere where they said the assassination of President Assad by the United States. Never even discussed."

Journalist Bob Woodward reported in his 2018 book, "Fear: Trump in the White House," that Trump wanted to assassinate the Syrian leader after a suspected chemical weapons attack in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun killed 89 people in April 2017. 

Trump told Mattis, “Let’s f---ing kill him! Let’s go in. Let’s kill the f---ing lot of them,” according to Woodward’s book. 

Mattis told an aide, “We’re not going to do any of that,” the book alleges. The retired four-star Marine Corps general instead developed a plan for retaliatory strikes on one of Assad’s airbases, and Trump ended up ordering them.  

The missile strikes did not deter Assad. In April 2018, a suspected chlorine attack in the town of Douma killed more than 40 people and triggered punitive but limited missile strikes against Syrian military targets from the United States, United Kingdom and France. 

Trump has also reportedly clashed over Assad with other members of his administration. In his recent memoir, former national security adviser John Bolton said Trump had a “constant desire” to talk directly with the Syrian regime about bringing home missing journalist Austin Tice and other Americans held hostage. Both Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo objected, according to the book. 

“Fortunately, Syria saved Trump from himself, refusing even to talk to Pompeo about them,” Bolton wrote.  

Trump also described Mattis on Tuesday as a “terrible general” and “bad leader.” The former defense secretary resigned in December 2018 over Trump’s abrupt decision to pull US troops from Syria.