- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 6, 2017

President Trump called for “all civilized nations” to rally in opposition to Syrian President Bashar Assad and global terrorism, speaking minutes after the U.S. revealed he’d ordered missile strikes against a military air field the regime has used this week to launch a chemical weapons attack against civilians.

Mr. Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the strikes were in the national security interests of the U.S., saying chemical weapons use must be countered at every turn in order to send a signal to the rest of the world.

“No child of God should ever suffer such horror,” the president said from Florida, where he had just concluded a meeting with China’s president. “Tonight I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched.”

The president spoke for about three minutes, and ignored a shouted question at the end asking what the legal justification was for the strike.

Mr. Trump moved swiftly to enforce the red line drawn previously by President Obama, who had warned the Syrian regime against chemical weapons attacks, but who had struggled to find ways to back up that threat.

Mr. Trump was clearly moved by the reports and photos of the chemical attack on Syrian civilians this week, and said earlier Thursday that the news had shaken his attitude toward Mr. Assad.

“It was a low and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack,” the president said Thursday night.

Reaction from Capitol Hill was swift and generally supportive — though all sides said they expect Mr. Trump to work with them on a broader plan.

“President Trump has made it clear to Assad and those who empower him that the days of committing war crimes with impunity are over,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican and former campaign opponent of Mr. Trump. “What must follow is a real and comprehensive strategy to ensure that Assad is no longer a threat to his people and to U.S. security, and that Russia no longer has free reign to support his regime.”

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the top Democrat in the upper chamber, said the president got it right.

“Making sure Assad knows that when he commits such despicable atrocities he will pay a price is the right thing to do,” he said. “It is incumbent on the Trump administration to come up with a strategy and consult with Congress before implementing it.”

Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, said other nations with chemical or nuclear weapons programs should take note of Mr. Trump’s quick action in Syria.

One dissenting note came from Sen. Chris Coons, Delaware Democrat, who said that while be was “encouraged” by Mr. Trump’s forceful action, he doubted the president has a thought-out plan.

“Frankly, the president’s actions today generate more questions than answers,” he said.

Mr. Trump’s decision came just two days after the chemical attack. He and his top aides said they are certain it was the Assad regime that used the chemical weapons.

The decision marks the second known time that Mr. Trump has authorized major military action. In his first days in office he gave final approval to a mission in the works under Mr. Obama to try to target terrorists in Yemen. That raid left a U.S. Navy SEAL dead.

The decision is also a reversal for Mr. Trump, who in 2013 blasted Mr. Obama for drawing the red line on Syria in the first place, then trying to earn world support for action.

“The only reason President Obama wants to attack Syria is to save face over his very dumb RED LINE statement. Do NOT attack Syria, fix U.S.A.,” Mr. Trump said at the time on Twitter.

On Thursday, Mr. Trump chided Mr. Obama for allowing the Syrian problem to fester.

“Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed, and failed very dramatically,” he said. “As a result, the refugee crisis continues to deepen and the region continues to destabilize, threatening the United States and its allies.”

The strikes are also a challenge to Russia, which has backed the Assad regime with its own military resources.

Mr. Tillerson said Russia had broken the promise it made in 2013, as part of an agreement with the Obama administration, to police the Assad regime and its chemical weapons program.

“Either Russia has been complicit or either Russia has been simply incompetent in its ability to deliver on its end of that agreement,” the top U.S. diplomat said.

He also said the Russian government in Moscow was not given a heads-up on the strikes, though the Russian military in Syria was contacted under agreements laid out several years ago to try to prevent the two countries’ troops from firing on each other.

Earlier in the day a Russian spokesman had said his government was trying to prevent attacks.

 The spokesman said Russia was backing the Assad regime’s fight against Islamist rebels “because only by ridding terrorists from Syrian soil can the country bring back calm conditions when children won’t be dying,” the spokesman said, according to the Russian TASS news agency.

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