Pence says U.S. must consider strikes on Assad’s forces

Olivier Knox
Chief Washington Correspondent

With Liz Goodwin in Farmville, Va. 

In an apparent break from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, GOP vice presidential hopeful Mike Pence said late Tuesday that the United States “should be prepared to use military force” against forces loyal to President Bashar Assad of Syria to save the battleground city of Aleppo.

Pence’s comments came as President Obama weighed his options for ending the slaughter in Aleppo’s rebel-held eastern zones, which have come under relentless fire from Russian-backed government forces.

“If Russia chooses to be involved — and continue, I should say, to be involved — in this barbaric attack on civilians in Aleppo, the United States of America should be prepared to use military force to strike military targets of the Assad regime to prevent them from this humanitarian crisis that is taking place in Aleppo,” Pence said during the vice presidential debate in Farmville, Va.

Those remarks seem to put the GOP vice presidential contender at odds with Trump, who has repeatedly talked of “knocking the hell” out of fighters of the so-called Islamic State in Syria, also known as ISIS, but has not supported military action against Assad’s forces.

“We have bigger problems than Assad,” Trump said in a May interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

The host, Joe Scarborough, pressed him, asking: “Assad is a horrible person, but he stays there. Our job is getting rid of ISIS. Is that where you are?”

“That’s where I am,” Trump replied. “If we’re going after Assad and ISIS, and they’re fighting each other, people are going to say: What the hell are we doing?”

In the spin room after the debate, Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook was quick to point out the daylight between the Trump and Pence positions.

“It’s troubling that they don’t seem to be acting as a unit,” he said. “Mike Pence either didn’t defend [Trump], or we heard entirely new positions. Which leads me to wonder if Mike Pence thinks Donald Trump has the wrong opinions.”

Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, also in the spin room, said he didn’t notice a policy departure on Syria or Russia. “Not that I know of, but I’m a Financial Services [Committee] guy, so maybe you need to talk to a Foreign Affairs [Committee] guy,” Hensarling told Yahoo News. “It didn’t sound new to me.”

Hensarling also said “almost any policy” on Syria would be better than Obama’s.