During his daily briefing for reporters, Mr. Spicer was defending President Trump’s decision to order a missile strike on Syria by trying to lend gravity to the actions of Mr. Assad. American officials accuse the Syrian president of using sarin gas, a lethal chemical weapon, in an attack on a rebel-held area of Idlib Province last week that killed dozens, many of them children.
But in misconstruing the facts of the Holocaust — Nazi Germany’s brutally efficient, carefully orchestrated extermination of six million Jews and others — Mr. Spicer instead drew a torrent of criticism and added to the perception that the Trump White House lacks sensitivity and has a tenuous grasp of history.
“We didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II,” Mr. Spicer said. “You know, you had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.”
He continued, “So you have to, if you are Russia, ask yourself: Is this a country and a regime that you want to align yourself with?”
The White House charged Tuesday that Russia had sought to cover up the Syrian government’s role in the chemical attack.
Asked to clarify his remarks, Mr. Spicer then acknowledged that Hitler had used chemical agents, but maintained that there was a difference.
“I think when you come to sarin gas, he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing,” Mr. Spicer said, incorrectly, before mentioning “Holocaust centers,” an apparent reference to Nazi death camps.
Some 160,000 to 180,000 Jews killed by Nazis were from Germany, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Mr. Spicer’s explanation drew gasps from reporters in the briefing room. The remarks almost immediately elicited outrage on social media and correctives from scholars of the Holocaust.
“Historically, it’s just wrong,” said Deborah Lipstadt, a leading historian of the Holocaust and a professor at Emory University in Atlanta. Mr. Spicer “should not be making comparisons,” Dr. Lipstadt said. “It’s, at the best, not thought out, and at the worst, shows a latent anti-Semitism.”
Shortly after his briefing, Mr. Spicer again tried to clarify his comments, saying in a statement that he was not “trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust.”
“I was trying to draw a distinction of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on population centers,” he said. “Any attack on innocent people is reprehensible and inexcusable.”
But the clarification did not quiet calls from some corners, including from Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, for Mr. Trump to fire Mr. Spicer.
By Tuesday evening, Mr. Spicer was on CNN, offering a contrite apology. “I was trying to draw a comparison for which there shouldn’t have been one,” he said.
The Trump administration has a history of missteps on the Holocaust. Days after Mr. Trump took office, a White House statement marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day was sharply criticized for failing to directly mention Jews or anti-Semitism.
Nor was Tuesday the only time Mr. Spicer has showed a hazy understanding of world events or appeared not to understand the implications of his words.
On Monday, he said that the president would retaliate against Syria not only if it used chemical weapons but also barrel bombs. “If you gas a baby, if you put a barrel bomb into innocent people, I think you will see a response from this president,” Mr. Spicer said.
Barrel bombs are the Assad government’s preferred tool of mass killing; Syrian forces dropped more than 12,000 of them in 2016, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights. Mr. Spicer’s comments, if taken literally, would signal a much broader American intervention in Syria’s civil war.
Mr. Spicer also said twice on Tuesday that Iran was a “failed state,” lumping it in with North Korea and Syria. Iran, though an adversary of the United States with a history of repression, is a robust, functioning state.
|Dan Rather (The Tonight Show)|
Sean Spicer just forgot the 1st rule of politics: Never compare anything to Hitler
White House press secretary Sean Spicer forgot the first rule of politics during a press briefing on Tuesday: Never, ever compare anyone or anything to Adolf Hitler.
Answering a question about Russia's potential complicity in the Syrian chemical attack last week, Spicer stretched for a Nazi Germany comparison.
"You had someone who was as despicable as Hitler who didn't even sink to using chemical weapons," he said. "So you have to, if you are Russia, ask yourself is this a country that you and a regime that you want to align yourself with."
Er, what? Hitler, of course, used lots and lots of chemical weapons -- in the sense that he ordered the executions of millions of Jews in gas chambers during World War II.
Given that history, Spicer was asked later in the briefing to clarify his comments. In trying to do so, he made it worse.
Here's Spicer's second swing at the question: "I think when you come to sarin gas, [Hitler] was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing," he said, adding: "But in the way that Assad used them, where he went into towns and dropped them down to innocents in the middle of towns."
Spicer is arguing a technicality -- that Hitler didn't specifically "drop" chemical weapons on Germans -- in an attempt to put Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's action on the same level as what Hitler did. But, in over-generalizing he's eliding some facts and getting others totally wrong.
This is a blatant violation of Godwin's Law -- the idea that by invoking Hitler comparisons in any way, shape or form you are immediately putting an end to any discussion. "Oh yeah, well this is like when Hitler did. ..." is a sentence that you should never, ever say. If you, like Spicer, are trying to say something is "worse" than what Hitler did, you really, really just need to stop talking.
Spicer tried to get it right the third time around when he released this statement about 30 minutes after leaving the podium: "In no way was I trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust. I was trying to draw a distinction of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on population centers. Any attack on innocent people is reprehensible and inexcusable."
For Spicer, this is the second major slip-up in as many days. On Monday, when asked whether the Trump administration's decision to launch strikes against the Syrian airfield where the chemical attacks are believed to have originated was the new policy of the United States, Spicer responded by saying: "If you gas a baby, if you put a barrel bomb into innocent people, I think you will see a response from this President."
Assad, of course, has been dropping barrel bombs onto civilians for some time now -- raising questions about whether Spicer's statement was an error or an actual change in policy. In a statement released after the briefing, Spicer made clear he had simply misspoken. "Nothing has changed in our posture," Spicer said.
Spicer was already on somewhat thin ice with President Donald Trump, according to multiple published reports over the first 80 days of this White House. Early in his presidency, Trump was said to be bothered not only by Spicer's less-than-vehement defense of the administration's policies but also by Spicer's wardrobe choices.
His performance over the last 48 hours will do little to assuage Trump's doubts. For an administration still struggling to establish its positive message over the first 100 days, Spicer's Hitler comments virtually ensure another news cycle lost to an unforced error.
And, make no mistake: This was an unforced error of the most basic variety.
‘There can be no joy in such incompetence’: Dan Rather hammers Sean Spicer’s ‘unhinged’ Hitler comments
Legendary journalist Dan Rather absolutely unloaded on White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Tuesday afternoon, bluntly calling him “incompetent.”
Writing on Facebook, Rather was as stunned as the rest of the country about Spicer’s claim that Syrian President Assad was worse than Hitler and his dismissal of Adolph Hitler gassing millions.
“I do not know where to begin,” Rather wrote. “Today in a briefing, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer issued a statement that is so far beyond the pale, so tone deaf and blind to history and our precarious moment in world affairs, that it is with only a heavy heart that I even bring attention to it. There can be no joy in such incompetence.”
Noting that Spicer asserted, “We didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II. You know, you had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” and calling concentration camps “Holocaust centers,” Rather was dumbstruck.
“This line of rhetoric is so unhinged, so amateurish, so lacking in the context and perspective necessary for statesmanship and diplomacy that I do not see how Mr. Spicer can be allowed to continue in his current position,” he wrote. “In the end, this is less about him and more about an administration that is inserting itself in a civil war and now is plunging into a drastic reformulation of American foreign policy without any clear sense that they have a plan. When you try to explain such a situation, it is understandable that your words don’t make sense. ”
“A bar, already set low, continues to drop,” he concluded.