WASHINGTON (Dispatches) – U.S. President Donald Trump has admitted that he was set to assassinate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2017, contradicting his earlier denial that he did not seek to kill him.
"I would have rather taken him out,” Trump said Tuesday on Fox News. "I had him all set, Mattis didn’t want to do it.”
Trump said during the Fox interview that he does not regret deciding against moving forward with the killing, but faulted former defense secretary James Mattis, whom he called "highly overrated” and a "bad person.” The ex-Pentagon chief, who left the administration in January 2019, has been critical of Trump.
"To me he was a terrible general, he was a bad leader,” Trump said of Mattis.
Mattis in December 2018 resigned in protest of Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.
A book written by journalist Bob Woodward in 2018 said Trump urged Mattis to come up with a plan to assassinate Assad, but that the then-defense secretary did not go along with the president’s demands. The discussions about assassinating Assad, according to the book, came after a fake alleged chemical attack on civilians in April 2017 that was blamed on the Syrian government.
The U.S. launched cruise missiles at Syria in response to the chemical attack the West had pinned on President Assad, but the targets were limited to military installations.
After details of Woodward’s book became public, Trump denied that he had sought Assad’s death.
"No, that was never even contemplated, nor would it be contemplated,” the president told reporters in September 2018. "And it should not have been written about in the book. It’s just more fiction. The book is total fiction.”