On Thursday the United States launched dozens of missiles on Syria in retaliation against the Syrian government’s chemical weapons attack this week, which claimed over 100 lives.
“It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.” President Trump said in a statement from his Mar-a-lago estate in Florida.
Mr. Trump, accompanied by several senior advisors, including Stephen K. Bannon, his chief strategist, and Reince Priebus, his chief of staff, said his decision to act was based on years of failure to take action by the world powers.
President Bashar-al-Assad’s government’s use of sarin, a banned nerve agent, violated the treaty the country signed less than four years ago in which they agreed to give up their chemical arsenal following the government’s first major attack in Syria near Damascus that left hundreds dead.
But the attack on Tuesday on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib Province, according to the New York Times, left scores dead in one of the worst atrocities the country has committed in the six-years-old war.
“Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed, and failed very dramatically,” the president said, “As a result, the refugee crisis continues to deepen, and the region continues to destabilize, threatening the United States and its allies.”
Earlier in the day, at the Women in the World Summit in New York, hours before President Trump’s decision to attack Syria, Hillary Clinton in her first interview since her shocking defeat in the presidential election called for the United States to bomb Syrian airfields.
“I think we should have been more willing to confront Assad,” Clinton said in the interview conducted by Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist, “I really believe we should have and still should take out his airfields and prevent him from being able to use them to bomb innocent people and drop sarin gas on them.”
A White House spokesman said the site targeted by the cruise missiles “was directly linked to the horrific chemical weapons attack”.
According to Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, the two U.S. warships in the Mediterranea Sea, the USS Ross and USS Porter, fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles directly intended for Al Shayrat airfield in Syria.
“Russian forces were notified in advance of the strike using the established deconfliction line,” Capt. Davis said, “Military planners took precautions to minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield.”
While the missiles were aimed at Syrian fighter jets and other infrastructure, the Pentagon is awaiting word of potential casualties.
Mr. Trump, in his first order for the use of military force, authorized the strike without congressional approval.
The airstrikes were carried out less than an hour after his dinner with President Xi Jinping of China, sending a clear, unmistakable signal about his willingness to use military power.
Trump’s decision to retaliate against Syria is a stark contrast to his prior attitude toward the raging civil war in the country.
Back in 2013, when Syria committed their first chemical attack, he tweeted then President Obama to avoid engaging with the country, a stance he continued to stand by until earlier this week.
President Obama, do not attack Syria. There is no upside and tremendous downside. Save your "powder" for another (and more important) day!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 7, 2013
In less than 24 hours, President Trump, after meeting with Pentagon officials, his shifted stance was made clear when the Defense Department and military officials began drafting options of retaliation that have since been carried out.