How fast did the U.S. take action against Syria? CNN’s Jeff Zelaney was giving Anderson Cooper the latest update on discussions between Defense Secretary Mattis and President Trump, when Cooper cut him off to announce we had launched a series of Tomahawk missiles into the country.
When asked about Assad’s fate last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson responded: “I think the… longer term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.”
On Tuesday, Syrian planes bombed their own people with what is now claimed by the Turkey Health Ministry to have been sarin nerve gas.
Resulting in 85 deaths and over 500 injuries, the images coming out of Syria were horrific. One in particular which has stuck with me, was that of an aid worker stacking the deceased bodies of children in the back of a van.
“I will tell you that attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me – big impact,” Trump told the press from the Rose Garden on Wednesday. “My attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much… You’re now talking about a whole different level.”
Of course, we had no idea what that “level” was. Like anything regarding policy, Trump remained incredibly vague.
Unfortunately, Tuesday’s event wasn’t unique. In 2013, the Assad regime launched a chemical attack into Ghouta, Syria. The tragedy resulted in the deaths of 1,500 civilians, 426 of which were children.
At the time, civilian Trump was against taking any action in Syria:
By Thursday afternoon, news leaked Trump was considering military action in retaliation for Tuesday’s chemical attack. This would mark a head spinning reversal on Trump’s approach to Syria just one week prior.
By that evening, we would learn Trump had ordered 59 Tomahawk missiles launched against a Syrian airbase. This is believed to be the same airbase from where the planes carrying Tuesday’s chemical drop originated.
Just hours before Trump ordered the strike, Hillary Clinton made a similar call to action from the stage of the “Women in the World” summit:
“I really believe that we should have and still should take out his air fields and prevent him from being able to use them to bomb innocent people and drop sarin gas on them.”
The U.S. has made multiple airstrikes against ISIS in Syria, but this is the first strike against the Assad regime itself.
While both the Obama and Trump administrations have launched bombings against ISIS in Syria, these actions are covered under the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force resolution.
Another gem from Trump’s Twitter treasure chest:
Unlike Trump, he requested it.
After the Ghouta chemical attack, President Obama announced the military was ready to respond on his command:
“I’m prepared to give that order. But having made my decision as Commander-in-Chief based on what I am convinced is our national security interests, I’m also mindful that I’m the President of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy.
“I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress.”
Congress refused to support President Obama’s proposal for an airstrike against the Assad regime.
Ultimately, a more diplomatic solution was reached when Russia sided with the U.S. in forcing Assad to to turn over his country’s chemical weapon stockpile. Apparently, that wasn’t all of it.
In the following days and weeks, we’ll learn how Russia and Assad will react to the strike.
The real question is: What will Trump do beyond this strike?
We’re once again left in the dark by a presidential administration that seems to be playing its foreign policy by ear.
UPDATE: Russia has responded. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has told the press:
“President Putin considers the American strikes against Syria an aggression
against a sovereign government in violations of the norms of international
law, and under a false pretext.”
UPDATE #3: The AP is reporting the deal to prevent mid-air incidents is back up.