In a reversal of his previous stance, on Thursday President Donald Trump ordered his first military action against government forces in Syria, abandoning his hands-off approach to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
At the president’s call, U.S. forces launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield around 3:40 a.m. Friday local time (8:40 p.m. Thursday EDT) in response to Assad’s deadly chemical weapons attack of April 4, that left 80 people dead, including many children. The U.S. missiles hit the Shayrat air base that housed the planes responsible for the attack, CNN reported.
Until now, Trump has been largely against U.S. military action in Syria, publicly blasting former President Barack Obama when he made the case for taking similar action against the Syrian government after a chemical weapons attack four years ago.
“Again, to our very foolish leader, do not attack Syria – if you do many very bad things will happen and from that fight the US gets nothing!” Trump said in a tweet dated Sept. 5, 2013.
“What I am saying is, stay out of Syria,” he wrote in another.
Disturbing images of slain men, women and children surfaced following Tuesday’s chemical attack, highlighting the urgency to help put an end to the nation’s bloody six-year civil war. One photo in particular showing a grieving father clutching his lifeless 9-month-old twins killed in the attack likely tugged at the heartstrings of the U.S. president, prompting him to change his stance on Syria.
“Using a deadly nerve agent, Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children. It was a slow and brutal death for so many,” President Trump said as he announced the strike from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida Thursday night. “Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack.”
“Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched,” he continued.
The announcement sent shock waves across the nation and the international community as well. Trump’s action drew mixed reactions from both Democrats and Republicans, while many foreign leaders praised the new president for striking at Assad.
“Tonight’s strike against the Assad Regime’s Shayrat Air Base will hopefully diminish his capacity to commit atrocities against innocent civilians,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in a statement following news of the air strike. “By acting decisively against the very facility in which Assad launched his murderous chemical weapons attack, President Trump has made it very clear to Assad and those who empower him that the days of committing war crimes with impunity are over.”
Trump also gained the support of Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) who commented that, “unlike the previous administration, President Trump confronted a pivotal moment in Syria and took action. For that, he deserves the support of the American people.”
Not everyone was quick to pat the president on the back for his military action, however. Politicians on both sides of the aisle characterized Trump’s move as hasty, arguing that he also may have overstepped his boundaries.
This is an act of war. Congress needs to come back into session & hold a debate. Anything less is an abdication of our responsibility. https://t.co/GvHML3ByeI
— Rep. Barbara Lee (@RepBarbaraLee) April 7, 2017
While we all condemn the atrocities in Syria, the United States was not attacked.
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) April 7, 2017
The President needs Congressional authorization for military action as required by the Constitution.
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) April 7, 2017
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has since called for an immediate Congressional meeting to debate “any decision to place our men and women in uniform in harm’s way.”
“The president’s action and any response demands that we immediately do our duty,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). “Congress must live up to its Constitutional responsibility to debate an Authorization of the Use of Military force against a sovereign nation.”
Despite some pushback from U.S. lawmakers, Trump’s efforts were lauded by foreign leaders from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada.
Very rare 6am (Jerusalem time) statement from Netanyahu just now: "Israel fully supports President Trump's decision"
— Anshel Pfeffer (@AnshelPfeffer) April 7, 2017
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's response to the US air strikes in Syria: pic.twitter.com/P4HrD572JP
— Katie Simpson (@CBCKatie) April 7, 2017
— Saudi Embassy (@SaudiEmbassyUSA) April 7, 2017
— Sky News (@SkyNews) April 7, 2017
One foreign head of state who condemned Trump’s attack was none other than Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Putin, who has backed the Syrian regime, contended that the air strike was designed to pull attention away from the conflict in Iraq.