Why Did Trump Reverse His Policy On Syria?

  • Kristina Evans
  • Apr 7, 2017 3:10PM

President Trump authorized a military strike against Syria late Thursday in retaliation for their chemical weapon attack on civilians earlier in the week. The strike targeted hangars, planes and fuel tanks at one Syrian military airfield according to a US official.

59 Tomahawk missiles were launched from two Navy destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea, hitting the al-Shayrat airfield near Homs, destroying infrastructure, aircraft, and the runway. A US military official said that the munitions were not aimed at people, but the Syrian government announced that there had been six deaths associated with the attack. According to the Pentagon, the Syrian government airbase was the launch point for the chemical attacks that targeted Syrian civilians. This comes just days after a suspected chemical attack in Syria. Dozens of videos and images of civilians, including many children, died in the suspected nerve gas attack on Tuesday in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province.

Speaking from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, Trump made a televised statement addressing the attack. “Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched,” Trump said, “It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.

The president did not formally announce the attacks in advance, but his ominous comments throughout the day Thursday have taken on a darker perspective in hindsight.

“I think what happened in Syria is one of the truly egregious crimes and shouldn’t have happened and it shouldn’t be allowed to happen,” Trump told reporters traveling on Air Force One to Florida. “What happened in Syria is a disgrace to humanity...so something should happen.”  He had stuck his head into the media area and briefly mentioned his feelings on the latest incident in Syria during his preparations for a two-day summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Trump is hosting Xi in meetings focused on the threat of North Korea’s nuclear program, so the show of strength and timing of this attack are quite interesting.

The Russians were given advanced warning of the US strike. There were Russians at the base during the strike, although the US did not target any Russian assets, and the two nations communicated all day.

“Russian forces were notified in advance of the strike,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff David said. “US military planners took precautions to minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield. We are assessing the results of the strike. Initial indications are that this strike has severely damaged or destroyed Syrian aircraft and support infrastructure and equipment at the Shayrat airfield, reducing the Syrian government’s ability to deliver chemical weapons. The use of chemical weapons against innocent people will not be tolerated.” It was not clear what the Russians’ roles were at the base.

When asked about potential US strikes before the attack, Russia deputy UN envoy Vladimir Safronov implied that Russia would not be happy with the retaliation.

“We have to think about negative consequences, negative consequences, and all the responsibility if military action occurred will be on the shoulders of those who initiated such doubtful and tragic enterprise.”

In response, US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, said, “[Russia] would act as the guarantor that these weapons would no longer be present in Syria,” referencing an agreement worked out between former President Obama and Putin to stop Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad from keeping chemical weapon stocks.

“Clearly Russia has failed in its responsibility to deliver on that commitment from 2013. Either Russia has been complicit, or Russia has been simply incompetent in its ability to deliver on its end of that agreement.”

This decision, and Trump’s statements regarding Assad are a stark reversal from previous stances. During his campaign, Trump faulted past US leaders for getting embroiled in conflicts in the Middle East. He even took to his famous Twitter to criticize Obama’s military response in 2013, after Assad had launched a sarin gas attack that killed more than 1,000 people near Damascus. Obama stepped back from military action after parliament in the UK, a crucial ally, declined to participate, and support for US action waned.