James Mattis Seemed To Suggest Donald Trump Attack On Syria Not Justified — ‘Newsweek’ Criticized For Claim

'Newsweek' published a provocative report saying Secretary of Defense James Mattis admitted Assad did not use poison gas on his people, which is important given that this was the justification offered by the Trump administration for its attacks on Syria. Now critics are hollering that an inept journalist simply misread Mattis' remarks.

Mattis poison gas assad trump attack
Sebastian Widmann / Getty Images

'Newsweek' published a provocative report saying Secretary of Defense James Mattis admitted Assad did not use poison gas on his people, which is important given that this was the justification offered by the Trump administration for its attacks on Syria. Now critics are hollering that an inept journalist simply misread Mattis' remarks.

Newsweek published an article titled “Now Mattis Admits There Was No Evidence Assad Used Poison Gas On His People” at the beginning of this month. The opinion piece by reporter Ian Wilkie called the supposed admission by James Mattis “striking.”

Wilkie linked to an Associated Press article in which a reporter named Robert Burns makes a similar claim.

Wilkie rightly pointed out that a flip-flop by Mattis on the point would be very significant. This is because the claim about Assad’s alleged vile act was used in a White House (NSC) memorandum which the administration produced and declassified (made available to the public) in order to justify an American Tomahawk missile strike against Syria’s Shayrat airbase.

In other words — according to Newsweek — Mattis appeared to admit that there was no real justification for the American attack on Syria. The memorandum that the government scrambled to put together to justify the attack was based on a pile of lies and/or errors, according to the report.

“Secretary Mattis has added fuel to WMD propaganda doubters’ fire by retroactively calling into question the rationale for an American cruise missile strike.”

Now, commenters are stepping in to attack Newsweek, saying that Wilkie misread the statement made by James Mattis on the issue.

A copy of the Mattis statement, including his confusing comments about Assad’s use of poison gas, has been circulating on social media.

It is claimed that Mattis did say that Assad used poison gas in 2013 and 2017.

In addition to that allegedly clear statement, Mattis also made a confusing comment full of sudden break-offs, where the secretary of defense would stop talking mid-sentence and take up another train of thought in a way that made his point difficult to discern.

It was those latter, vague remarks that Ian Wilkie seized upon when he wrote his Newsweek piece.

Some people are claiming that the Newsweek writer badly misinterpreted what Mattis said.

Twitter user Brad Hoff asked for someone to go and ask Mattis what he meant.

It has also been claimed that both Robert Burns from Associated Press and Ian Wilkie from Newsweek have since backtracked and declared that Mattis definitely stated that the 2013 and 2017 poison gas attacks by Assad took place.

James Mattis has been described as a hawkish and hard-nosed secretary of defense with a special dislike for Iran. The former United States Marine Corps general, who is nicknamed “Mad Dog Mattis,” has said that he wants to make the U.S. military “more lethal.”

The Hill reports that Mattis is currently annoyed about the need to secure funding in small bursts. Mattis must get money by appealing for short-term funding injections known as continuing resolutions, or CRs.

“I cannot maintain the U.S. military on CRs,” the Defense Secretary grumbled recently.

It’s not the only unpleasantness presently surrounding Trump and Mattis. There have been claims that the Trump and Mattis-led military may be extending its stay in Syria and Iraq illegally.

Business Insider reports that the Trump administration would need to obtain a new congressional authorization to use military force (AUMF) in order to continue its fight against terrorism around the world — but they have not done so.

“The Trump administration has decided that it has legal justification to keep U.S. forces in Syria and Iraq.”

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The legality of Donald Trump and James Mattis’ military moves has been called into question. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Legal scholars have questioned whether Donald Trump should be using the old congressional AUMFs from 2001 and 2002 to justify continued military action, saying that the administration has made a weak argument and it could set a dangerous precedent.

Trump-haters eager to cite this as more evidence of the president’s unprecedented oafishness and military-mindedness will have to tread carefully, though. The report points out that Barack Obama was also guilty of using the same old AUMFs from 2001 to justify his worldwide military adventures.