On Thursday, the United States launched a military strike on Syria, but pictures of Donald Trump on Air Force One earlier in the day show that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was being screened on the presidential plane hours before the attack. This resulted in some awkward and bizarre visuals, with the president denouncing chemical gas attacks in Syria while a space adventure film played on the TV behind him.
However, the absurd optics of this notwithstanding, it's not actually Trump's fault. According to ABC reporter Alex Mallin, reporters on the plane were watching the film in the press cabin when Trump emerged to take questions. The journalists forgot to turn the movie off, according to Mallin, which is why it was still playing in the background as Trump (and later, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer) talked about Syria.
During that interview, Trump insisted that "something should happen" in response to the recent gas attack in Syria, which is believed to have been launched by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, though it denies involvement. Though Trump's language was vague and strangely passive, it's now clear what he meant by "something," as the administration launched more than 50 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian air base just hours after the president spoke with reporters on Air Force One.
Nevertheless, the image quickly got memed, with Photoshoppers replacing the Rogue One footage with images of, for instance, Trump's approval ratings. That's somewhat understandable, because at a first glance, it really did appear as if the administration was watching the Star Wars installment on the eve of a military strike, which — needless to say — would be grossly inappropriate. Furthermore, Trump's reputation for taking a cavalier attitude toward national security matters made it believable, in the eyes of many, that he would do exactly this. But in this case, he didn't.
Prior to becoming president, Trump staunchly opposed any U.S. military intervention in Syria, and denounced the possibility many times in 2013, when President Obama was considering launching airstrikes in the country.
"Don't attack Syria- an attack that will bring nothing but trouble for the U.S.," Trump tweeted at the time. "Focus on making our country strong and great again!" In a different tweet, Trump said that "[i]f the U.S. attacks Syria and hits the wrong targets, killing civilians, there will be worldwide hell to pay," and so America should "stay away" from the country.
So, criticize Trump for this massive, glaring flip-flop on Syria policy — not for the fact that Rogue One was playing on his plane.