Donald Trump Considering Military Retaliation In Syria

Trump administration changes its tune on Assad after deadly chemical weapons attack

Donald Trump speaks to the press on Air Force One Thursday — AFP/Getty Images
Apr 06, 2017 at 4:30 PM ET

The Trump administration is weighing its options for a military response to a deadly chemical weapons attack committed in Syria that left dozens dead, including children. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Thursday that an international effort is underway to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power — a dramatic flip-flop from just days ago.

Speaking on Air Force One, Donald Trump said “something should happen” in response to the attack. He’ll reportedly meet with military officials, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, Thursday evening to discuss options.

Turkish officials confirmed in a statement Thursday that the attack, which killed at least 70 people and left hundreds more sickened, was committed with a bomb containing the banned nerve agent sarin. The Assad regime is widely believed to have been behind the bombing. The incident prompted President Donald Trump to say Assad had crossed “many many lines.” He also said he was profoundly affected by news of the attack.

Trump’s new-found opposition to Assad is a dramatic reversal in Syrian policy from just last week when White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the Trump administration was forced to accept the “political reality” that the Assad regime will continue to rule in Syria. It also contradicts a recently unearthed tweet storm from Trump in 2013 when he hammered then-president Barack Obama for his Syria comments, while adding that he was opposed to military action in Syria.

The Obama administration was reluctant to intensify the US’s military involvement in Syria, after coming to power with promises of ending the Iraq War and limiting U.S. military presence in the Middle East. Obama infamously called chemical weapons use in Syria a “red line,” and then opted not to retaliate after a deadly chemical attack in 2013 followed. Obama’s change of policy followed him to the end of his presidency, with Trump as one of the most vocal critics.

Trump previously stated that his priority in Syria and the Middle East was defeating ISIS, not removing Assad from power. Trump has also made improving relations with Russia a priority, and given Russia has taken military action in Syria on behalf of the Assad regime, it looked unlikely Trump would take action on Assad.

However, a spokesman for Russian president Vladimir Putin stated Thursday that Russia’s support for Assad is “not unconditional,” signaling some level of disapproval over the chemical weapons attack.