President Donald Trump said on "Fox & Friends" Tuesday that he wanted to "take out" Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after the 2017 Khan Shaykhun chemical attack in Idlib, Syria, but Jim Mattis, then his secretary of defense, objected.
"I would've rather taken him out. I had him all set. Mattis didn't want to do it," Trump said Tuesday, calling Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general, "highly overrated." He said Mattis, who commands tremendous respect among US troops but has frustrated more than one US president, was a "terrible general" and a "bad leader."
"I had a shot to take him out if I wanted, and Mattis was against it," Trump said. "Mattis was against most of that stuff." Trump said that he does not regret not killing the Syrian leader though. He said he "could've lived either way with that."
Rather than assassinate Assad for his regime's role in the horrific April 4, 2017 chemical attack that killed 89 people and injured more than 500 others, the US obliterated Shayrat Air Base with 59 cruise missiles, believed to be the source of the attack, which is considered to be the deadliest since the 2013 attack in Ghouta, Syria.
In response to another deadly chemical attack in Syria about a year later, the US, together with France and the UK, used ships and aircraft to conduct strikes on sites believed to support Syria's chemical warfare operations.
The president's admission Tuesday supports reporting from 2018 that Trump then disputed as "fiction."
Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward revealed in his book "Fear" that Trump told Mattis that the US should "f---ing kill" Assad. Mattis acknowledged the president's demands but told aides after hanging up the phone that the US response would be "much more measured."
Trump denied Woodward's reporting, saying the events presented in the book never happened. "The book is fiction," he said, stating that killing Assad is something that was "never even discussed."
"No, that was never even contemplated, nor would it be contemplated, and it should not have been written about in the book," Trump said.
Lately, the Trump administration has been fighting a series of troubling new allegations in Woodward's latest book, "Rage," including that he knowingly misled the American public about the threat posed by coronavirus.