Despite warnings that Russia would retaliate, President Donald Trump addressed the nation last night and announced that the United States would launch precision airstrikes against military targets in Syria. The United Kingdom and France are joining the United States in the assault. Syria has been accused of repeatedly violating international law by using chemical weapons against civilians.
Shortly after the president’s announcement, the Russian ambassador to the United States said there would be “consequences” for the president’s decision. Russia has since called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council. That meeting will occur at 11:00 am EST on Saturday, April 14. A statement this morning by Russian President Vladimir Putin “condemned” the strike, citing concern for civilians on the ground.
While Secretary of Defense James Mattis said that there would not be another attack on Syria unless they continued to use chemical weapons, President Trump said he was “prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents.”
President Trump has taken decisive action in a region that his predecessor, President Barack Obama, did not. Infamously, former President Obama referred to Syria’s use of chemical red lines as a “red line” that would necessitate a response from the United States. In the end, President Obama went to Congress for support of retaliation against Syria. Congress did not approve of the request, and no action was taken by the Obama Administration.
Interestingly, President Trump called on the president to go to Congress at the time. In this strike, the Trump Administration did not seek permission from either Congress or the United Nations. Whatever the president’s history on the issue, he has made clear that the United States will not tolerate repeated breaks with international law.
The decision drew negative responses from both sides of the aisle. Some Democrats were wary of the president’s decision. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) tweeted, “So Mattis doesn’t want to strike Syria because it risks dragging U.S. into a broader war with Russia and Iran, but he has to do it anyway because Trump tweeted about it. Welcome to the Trump national security nightmare we’ve been waiting for.”
Hillary Clinton’s running mate from the 2016 election, Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), called the strike “illegal.”
Some conservative supporters of the president also opposed the decision to launch military strikes. Michael Savage, a conservative radio host, tweeted his opposition, doubting whether Assad was even behind the attacks.
Debates about legality are common after these kinds of attacks, but they echo the ones launched last year by President Trump under similar circumstances. This round of strikes attacked one research facility near Damascus where the weapons were sometimes produced as well as two additional facilities, one that was being used to produce sarin gas and another that acted more as a military command post.
The international response seems to be largely supportive, especially given the inclusion of the United Kingdom and France. As of now, Russia’s retaliation seems confined to the boundaries of the United Nations, but a military response may await.
Cover image from the NY Post.