With President Donald Trump declaring “mission accomplished” after allied airstrikes against Syria in retaliation for its use of chemical weapons, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley on Sunday said the president was referring only to the narrow task on Friday.
Those strikes, coordinated with France and Britain, damaged three facilities controlled by the Syrian regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad. To some commentators, Trump’s “mission accomplished” tweet echoed former President George W. Bush’s ill-fated speech in front of a “mission accomplished” banner after the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
“We, of course, know that our work in Syria is not done,” Haley said on “Fox News Sunday” to host Chris Wallace. “We know that it is now up to Bashar al-Assad on whether he’s going to use chemical weapons again. And should he use it again, the president has made it very clear that the United States is locked and loaded.”
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But Haley said the airstrikes accomplished their purpose. She claimed the attacks set back Syrian chemical weapons research by years.
Trump took to Twitter Sunday to defend his characterization of the strikes.
“The Syrian raid was so perfectly carried out, with such precision, that the only way the Fake News Media could demean it was by my use of the term ‘Mission Accomplished.’ I knew they would seize on this but felt it is such a great Military term, it should be brought back. Use often!” he tweeted.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders made the same point Sunday during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”
“They 100 percent met their objective. That’s what the president is referring to,” she said. “They went out to destroy critical chemical weapons infrastructure in Syria, and they did exactly that. And they also sent a strong message to Syria, to Russia, to Iran: When this president has a red line, he will enforce it.”
Critics, however, claimed Sunday that Trump was premature.
“I think it is very difficult to say mission accomplished if the mission is to deter the use of chemical weapons,” Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) said on CNN’s “State of the Union” to Jake Tapper. “We hope that will be the case. But we did a strike a year ago for that same purpose, and it was deemed a success, but the chemical weapons have continued to be used.”
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) sounded a similar note of caution on ABC’s “This Week” and called for a broader strategy.
“I am glad the strikes were undertaken,” she said. “That does not, however, solve the problem. We do not have an overall comprehensive strategy for dealing with Syria.”
The Syrian raid was so perfectly carried out, with such precision, that the only way the Fake News Media could demean was by my use of the term “Mission Accomplished.” I knew they would seize on this but felt it is such a great Military term, it should be brought back. Use often!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 15, 2018
Sanders and Haley both said the administration has three goals: to defeat the Islamic State terrorist organization; to contain Iran; and to stop the spread and use of chemical weapons.
“These are big things the president’s been focused on,” Sanders said. “And we’ve had some success so far. We’re going to continue building on that.”
Responding to criticism that Trump last month somehow encouraged Assad to use chlorine bombs against his own people by indicating that he wanted 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria to withdraw, Haley said the president has made it clear soldiers will remain until the job is finished.
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“No, he never thought he’d get out in 48 hours,” she said. “Yes, it is all of our goal to see American troops come home. But we’re not going to leave until we have accomplished those goals.”
Haley sidestepped a question from Wallace of Fox News about whether any chemical attack — however small — definitely would trigger another round of airstrikes. She also did not directly answer a question about chemical weapons as a “red line” when Assad has slaughtered thousands of civilians with conventional arms.
“We will watch his actions. He now dictates his life.”
“We will watch his actions. He now dictates his life,” she said. “And he now dictates what happens between the United States, our allies, and his regime.”
(photo credit, homepage image: Ambassador Nikki Haley Addresses the U.N. Human Rights Council, CC BY-ND 2.0, by United States Mission Geneva)