Updated 12:33 Eastern, April 7, 2017
WASHINGTON – The Trump administration began the year with high hopes for a restart in relationship with Russia, but those apparently were dashed Thursday when U.S. destroyer ships fired 59 Tomahawk missiles into Syria in retaliation for that country’s use of a deadly chemical weapon that killed more than 70 of its own citizens.
“On Tuesday, Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad launched a horrible chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians using a deadly nerve agent,” Trump said Thursday night. “Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children. It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror.”
Trump said he had ordered a “targeted military strike” on the Syrian airfield “from where the chemical attack was launched.”
“It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons,” Trump said. “There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and ignored the urging of the U.N. Security Council.”
Just a few months ago, the political establishment was joking about Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin being best friends. Now, they seem like long-time enemies – and just a few steps away from world war.
Russia’s Sputnik News labeled the chemical attack “alleged” attack, implying it never happened.
“President Putin regards the US attacks on Syria as an aggression against a sovereign state in violation of the norms of international law, and under a trumped-up pretext at that,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. “… Putin also sees the attacks on Syria by the US as an attempt to divert the international community’s attention from the numerous casualties among civilians in Iraq.”
The Russian defense ministry even said it would strengthen an air defense system within Syria to protect that country. Russia is Syria’s most powerful ally.
“In order to protect the most sensitive objects of the Syrian infrastructure, a system of measures to bolster and increase the effectiveness of the Syrian armed forces’ air defense systems will be implemented,” said ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov
Peskov said the chances for a collision or war between the two countries in Syria had “significantly increased.” He even charged that the airstrike was “carried out for the benefit of ISIS and other terrorist organizations.”
Russian also announced it was suspending a September 2015 agreement that was intended to avoid incidents between U.S. and American aircraft.
In Washington, the strike was widely applauded, although Republicans and Democrats urged Trump to obtain Congressional approval for further actions.
“Making sure Assad knows that when he commits such despicable atrocities he will pay a price is the right thing to do,” Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement. “It is incumbent on the Trump administration to come up with a strategy and consult Congress before implementing it.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said the “strike in Syria appears to be a proportional response to the regime’s use of chemical weapons.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, labeled it “appropriate and just.”
But Republican Sen. Rand Paul said Trump should have asked for clearance from Congress before the strike.
“The Constitution clearly states that it is Congress that has the power to declare war, not the president,” Paul said.
Paul said he would have opposed intervention.
“Military action is not in our national security interest and should not be authorized,” he said. “Our prior interventions in this region have done nothing to make us safer, and Syria will be no different. There is no doubt Assad is a brutal dictator. But if we seek to remove him, we must ask what comes next. Assad is fighting radical Islamic rebels, including large parts of ISIS. Who would take over Syria if Assad is deposed?”
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