President Donald Trump said that a strike against Syria for its chemical attacks against civilians was being waged by American, French and UK forces, and would be part of a sustained retaliatory response against the Russia-backed regime of Bashar Hafez al-Assad, who has been the president of Syria, since July 2000.
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“The purpose of our actions tonight is to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons. Establishing this deterrent is a vital national security interest of the United States,” Trump said.
While some members of Congress were supportive, others reacted to the attack with questions about Trump’s authority to wage war without congressional approval and others condemned the unthinking application of violence.
“Tonight’s airstrikes w/ British & French support underscore the importance of partners & alliances in achieving shared objectives,” said US Senator Robert Menendez in a post on Twitter.
His primary election rival, Democrat Lisa McCormick, tweeted: “After 17 years of war in Afghanistan & 15 years of war in Iraq, the Middle East needs a smart strategy to bring peace, not more reckless American military adventurism.”
“@realDonaldTrump & @SenatorMenendez have once again opted to shoot first, ask dumb questions later,” said McCormick. “Syria’s civil war won’t be the last beehive they kick unless you stop them.”
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the attack involved naval assets and manned aircraft.
They would not name ships or aircraft, but identified three targets: a scientific research center in Damascus, a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs and a storage facility and command post near Homs.
U.S., British and French forces called attacks against the Syrian government’s chemical weapon arsenal in retaliation for the use of such weapons on civilians.
Assad has confounded many observers by holding on to power for many years despite a rebellion by a large part of the population. Unlike his former counterparts in Tunisia and Egypt, when protests against his government began in the Arab Spring of 2011, Assad gave orders to crush the dissent.
Assad is the 19th president of Syria, and also commander-in-chief of the Syrian Armed Forces, General Secretary of the ruling Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party and Regional Secretary of the party’s branch in Syria.
Once viewed as a promising leader who would propel Syria into the 21st century, he abandoned the role of transformational figure with an openness to political dialogue with the public, as well as a hint of sympathy for the “anger” and “desperation” that he perceived in protests elsewhere.
Although he once agreed that “reform in politics is important”, even if it came slowly, when dissent from his own people rose in Syria, the regime cracked down violently. YouTube videos revealed security forces firing into crowds.
With the death toll of Syria’s civil war above 465000, Assad’s past rhetoric of change and “the people” now takes on a pall of cruel irony.
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