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Middle East: Syria crisis collides with Trump chaos – by Bryan Bender and Wesley Morgan

National security adviser John Bolton was supposed to lead a White House meeting of the president’s national security team on Monday afternoon, but a surprise visitor showed up and took the reins instead: Mike Pence.

The vice president doesn’t often attend the White House’s Principals Committee meetings, which are typically led by the national security adviser, but Pence guided Monday’s discussion as President Donald Trump’s senior aides debated how to respond to a gruesome chemical weapons attack in Syria, according to four senior administration officials.

Pence’s attendance wasn’t listed on his public schedule. Although some meeting attendees viewed his appearance as an attempt to upstage Bolton on his first day as national security adviser, others saw it as an effort by the vice president to offer a steadying hand as Trump confronts a thorny national security dilemma with a foreign policy team in flux and amid the distraction of multiple investigations.

A White House official said the vice president attended the meeting in the president’s place, though the president’s attendance would have turned the gathering into a meeting of his National Security Council — a formal distinction previous administrations have closely adhered to. The same official said Pence has chaired Principals Committee meetings before.

Trump, who has promised that Syrian President Bashar Assad will pay a “big price” for the latest attack, is balancing his public threats to punish Assad with the possibility that airstrikes against Syria could kill Russian soldiers there and create a dangerous crisis with Moscow.

Trump’s national security team is rehashing a debate based on the parameters set forth by the president a year ago when he ordered airstrikes after a chemical weapons attack last April, and administration officials said the president feels strongly that the use of chemicals weapons is a type of barbarism the U.S. cannot tolerate. But foreign policy analysts say the administration has yet to find a way to fundamentally shift the dynamics.

“When he ordered that strike, he in essence bought on to the Obama red line,” said Eric Edelman, who served as undersecretary of defense for policy in the George W. Bush administration, referring to the previous administration’s threat — empty, as it turned out — that the use of chemical weapons would spur the U.S. to action. “So now he’s bought on to that red line, he’s gotta enforce it,” Edelman said of Trump.

Read more:Syria crisis collides with Trump chaos – POLITICO

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