A grisly chemical weapons attack on civilians in Syria may put pressure on the Trump administration to take a stronger stand against Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.
Tuesday’s attack on an opposition-held town, which killed at least 58 people, including 11 children, was blamed on the Assad regime. The Syrian government denied the use of chemical weapons, but has been accused repeatedly of their use during the six-year civil war.
Syrian Activists Say Dozens Dead in Idlib Chemical Attack(0:50)
Syrian regime or allied Russian aircraft have been accused of carrying out a chemical attack in northwestern Syria on Tuesday, in which dozens of people have been killed or injured. Image: EPA
In a statement, President Donald Trump condemned the attack, but also blamed the Obama administration. “Today’s chemical attack in Syria against innocent people including women and children is reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilized world,” Trump said. “These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration’s weakness and irresolution. . . . President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a ‘red line’ against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing.”
But in 2013, Trump tweeted on at least four occasions that the U.S. should not strike Syria over “red line” violations, calling Obama’s 2012 statement “dumb” and a potential U.S. attack a “stupid move.”
Trump's statement today blames Obama for not acting after his red line. But at least 4 times, Trump tweeted at Obama not to attack in Syria. pic.twitter.com/8IoElxO2j3
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) April 4, 2017
In recent days, the Trump administration has stepped back from Obama-era demands that Assad be removed from power in favor of refocusing its efforts in Syria against the Islamic State, a move some fear may have emboldened Assad.
“The Trump administration had hoped to defer or even ignore the Assad issue,” Frederic Hof, a former Obama administration adviser on Syria currently at the Atlantic Council think tank, told the Wall Street Journal. “Assad — already conditioned by over four years of Obama administration weakness — may have taken recent administration statements about not focusing on him as a green light by new management to do as he wished to civilians in rebel-occupied areas.”
In comments last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the “longer-term status of President (Bashar) Assad will be decided by the Syrian people,” and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said “our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), lashed out at Trump’s policy on Syria. “It is another disgraceful chapter in American history and it was predictable,” he told CNN on Tuesday. In a later statement, McCain said: “Assad believes he can commit war crimes with impunity. The question that confronts the United States now is whether we will take any action to disabuse him of this murderous notion.”
Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) told CNN that Assad was probably testing Trump, and said the U.S. needs to react appropriately.
“We can’t let them cross this line without having consequences,” Kennedy said.