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Trump announces ‘precision strikes’ on Syria, decries ‘monster’ Assad

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President Donald Trump announced “precision strikes” against chemical weapons targets in Syria in a televised address on Friday night, as part of a joint operation with France and the United Kingdom.

The military action came less than a week after a suspected chemical weapons attack that U.S. officials have determined was executed by Syrian leader Bashar Assad’s regime.

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“These are not the actions of a man,” Trump said, referring to Assad. “They are crimes of a monster.”

In his eight-minute statement, Trump blamed Russia directly for the attacks, saying it hadn’t done enough to stop Assad.

“Russia must decide if it will continue down this dark path or if it will join with civilized nations as a force for stability and peace,” Trump said.

The strike is a response to a suspected chemical weapons attack in in the Syrian town of Douma, north of the capital of Damascus. The attack, which Trump called “evil and despicable,” killed dozens of people.

British Prime Minister Teresa May said that the Syrian regime “has a history of using chemical weapons against its own people in the most cruel and abhorrent way. And a significant body of information including intelligence indicates the Syrian Regime is responsible for this latest attack.”

She added: “This persistent pattern of behavior must be stopped – not just to protect innocent people in Syria from the horrific deaths and casualties caused by chemical weapons but also because we cannot allow the erosion of the international norm that prevents the use of these weapons.”

The decision comes after another chaotic week in Washington that started with an FBI raid on the apartment and office of Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer, and ended with a barrage of news reports on former FBI Director James Comey’s tell-all book.

Trump, for his part, has been angry all week, fuming to aides about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and Comey’s personal attacks on him in the book.

All the while, Trump and his national security team were fiercely debating a Syria response behind the scenes.

On Monday, Trump said his administration would decide in the next “24 to 48 hours” on a response. But the internal debate has dragged on, with some in the administration, including Secretary of Defense James Mattis, urging caution.

Ahead of Friday’s announcement, Vice President Mike Pence, who is in Peru for Summit of the Americas, was rushed back to his hotel ahead of schedule. The White House abruptly gathered reporters in the Diplomatic Reception Room for the remarks. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and new national security adviser John Bolton looked on as Trump made his speech.

Though the president said Friday that he is “prepared to sustain this response,” he stressed that he does not intend to stay in Syria for long.

“America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria — under no circumstances,” he said, though he did not outline a timeline for disentangling the United States from the conflict.

The decision comes about a year after Trump approved a separate strike on a Syrian airbase in response to an April 2017 chemical weapons attack.

Trump said Friday’s strike was intended to establish a “strong deterrent” against the future use of chemical weapons.

The president’s decision to retaliate drew swift support from his own party.

“Chemical attacks against innocent children and civilians are horrific and totally unacceptable,” U.S. Senator David Perdue (R-GA), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement after the speech. “Assad must know his inhumane actions will not be tolerated.”

“President Trump is engaged and led our allies in measured response to hold Assad accountable,” he added.

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, issued a statement calling Assad’s the use of poison gas “unacceptable.”

“Equally concerning, the attack is part of a trend of Russian supported chemical weapons attacks across the world,” he added. “The United States and our allies cannot let these attacks stand. I support the President’s decision to undertake this strike together with our allies.”

“Tough questions about the future of our policy in Syria remain, but those questions should not detract from the justness of tonight’s actions,” Thornberry concluded.

The strike was also praised by some Obama administration officials who have advocated for a tougher American approach to Assad.

“No way am I happy that the Syrian people have to endure more, but seven years of impunity has to have consequences,” tweeted Wa’el Alzayat, a former State Department official who dealt with Syria issues.

But anti-war groups were quick to criticize the move as reckless and unlikely to make a difference in the long run.

“President Trump’s decision to strike Syrian forces was impulsive, dangerous and a clear violation of domestic and international law,” said Peace Action. “This attack endangers U.S. forces in the region, and invites escalation from Russia, Iran and Syria.”

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), and a long-time opponent of military action without a express congressional authorization, called Friday night’s strike “illegal.”

“President Trump’s decision to launch airstrikes against the Syrian government without Congress’s approval is illegal and — absent a broader strategy — it’s reckless,” Kaine said in a statement. “Assad must face consequences for his war crimes, but Presidents cannot initiate military action when there isn’t an imminent threat to American lives. Today, it’s a strike on Syria — what’s going to stop him from bombing Iran or North Korea next?”

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