Trump mustn't waver in punishing Syria's leader

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A year ago, Donald J. Trump ordered dozens of cruise missiles to be fired at a Syrian air base, the launching site of a chemical attack by the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad on his own people. About 100 Syrians, including dozens of women and children, were killed and more than 557 were injured.

President Trump, just three months in office, was deeply affected by the images of children in the throes of agony.

The unleashing of 59 cruise Tomahawk missiles from a U.S. warship in the Mediterranean Sea was an appropriate and necessary response by the United States to Assad’s blood lust as he fights to remain in power. The civil war has been raging in Syria for seven years and has resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths and countless injuries. The Syrian government, with support from Russia, is guilty of crimes against humanity.

Thus, when President Trump meets today in the White House with his senior military leadership and his new national security adviser, John Bolton, to discuss Saturday’s chemical attack on Douma, a rebel-held town near Damascus, there must be no hesitation as to America’s response. The death toll of at least 40 included many women and children. Families were found suffocated in their homes.

More than 500 people, mostly women and children, were taken to medical centers with difficulty breathing, foaming at the mouth, and burning sensations in the eyes. The patients gave off a chlorine-like smell. Some had bluish skin, a sign of oxygen deprivation. Doctors said the symptoms were consistent with chemical exposure.

The Associated Press reported that one woman had convulsions and pinpoint pupils, suggesting exposure to a nerve agent.

The pictures of the dead, dying and injured, especially those of the young, again tugged at President Trump’s heartstrings.

“Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria,” he tweeted Sunday. “Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay. Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK.”

Placing blame

It is significant that Trump placed the blame for the chemical attack on Syrian President Assad. And it is encouraging that he is willing to hold Russian President Vladimir Putin and leaders of Iran responsible for the atrocities long committed by the Assad regime.

Just last month, Trump called Putin to congratulate him on his re-election victory, even though the election in Russia was dismissed by most objective observers around the world as fake.

Trump has gone so far as to say that a visit by Putin to the White House could occur in the near future.

We have criticized Trump for his slow response to Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and for not taking seriously Putin’s expansionist goals.

By propping up the Assad regime and assisting the government militarily in taking back rebel-held enclaves, Russia is just as guilty of crimes against humanity.

The images of Trump greeting Putin on the steps of the White House would be viewed around the world as another example of America’s two-faced foreign policy.

Saturday’s attack on innocent Syrians is reason enough for the president to make clear that his Russian counterpart is no longer welcome in Washington.

Indeed, Monday’s meeting to discuss a military response to Assad’s criminal behavior should also deal with the involvement of Russia in the civil war.

It is also important for Trump to clarify what he meant when he said the U.S. would withdraw its 2,000 troops in Syria as soon as the remaining Islamic State fighters are vanquished.

The president’s move to dramatically scale back U.S. goals in Syria by pushing for a quick military withdrawal has triggered resistance from many of his national security advisers.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, he harshly criticized then President Barack Obama for publicizing a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops, but that’s exactly what he has done by telling his advisers he wants troops out within six months.

It’s a safe bet that the moment the U.S. withdraws from Syria, Islamic State and other extremist groups will flood into the war-torn country. It is also easy to predict that Syria’s dictator, Assad, and his ally Putin, the dictator of Russia, will pull out all the stops in their quest to destroy the rebel groups.

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