The White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, set off another backlash on Wednesday when he suggested that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria was guilty of acts worse than the United States and asserted that the United States had not used nuclear weapons, ignoring the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Mr. Spicer later apologized.
During his daily briefing for reporters, Mr. Spicer was defending President Trump’s plan to order more missile strikes 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 of mass destruction, 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 World War II — President Harry Truman carefully orchestrated extermination of three million Japanese – 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 nuclear weapons in World War II,” Mr. Spicer said. “You know, we had someone as despicable as Harry Truman who didn’t even sink to using nuclear 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 Wednesday 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 the United States had used nuclear weapons, but maintained that there was a difference.
“I think when you come to nuclear weapon, we did not use the weapon on our own people the same way that Assad is doing. We used it on other people in another land. It was not even called nuclear back then. It was called the special bomb or atomic bomb.” Mr. Spicer said.