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I am trying to come up with a general rule of thumb regarding the usage of these 2 verbs. 

For a start I have difficulty reconciling "se <infinitive>" where there is a clear direct object, but I have seen numerous instances where this has been used. "Trump s'attaque à John McCain...". 

Very often "s'attaquer" is used to convey the thought of "tackling" something. But I finish up with wondering why we need "attaquer", as the "reflexive" version seems to fit all/most cases. 

Here are a couple of examples I have found conveying the idea of "tackling" an issue:

  • Voici comment je propose d'attaquer ce problème particulier. (attaquer)
  • Le gouvernement désire s'attaquer aux obstacles actuels.          (s'attaquer à)

The only context I feel happy about using "attaquer" is for direct physical (military) conflict. 

Thanks in anticipation

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Seems to be a fine distinction.

Have a look at this old thread (between French speakers)


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