A somber President Donald Trump late Friday announced a coordinated, three-country strike against Syria in retaliation for a recent chemical weapons attack.
Trump, who had telegraphed the attack on Twitter, told the nation that preventing the production and use of chemical weapons is in the national interests of the United States. Syrian forces used chemical weapons in assaults last week against rebel-held areas in the city of Douma.
“Today the nations of Britain, France and the United States of America have marshaled their righteous power against barbarism and brutality,” said the president in a televised address from the White House. “We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents.”
The first wave of the assault had commenced shortly before Trump spoke to the country. Within a few minutes, both British Prime Minister Teresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron released statements emphasizing the same message.
The military action comes a little more than a year after the United States launched nearly 60 cruise missiles at an airfield in Syria following an earlier chemical attack in the Syrian civil war. Trump suggested Friday’s action will be more robust than last year’s one-off. Secretary of Defense James Mattis said both manned and unmanned weapons were used.
Trump noted that a million people died or suffered injuries from chemical weapons during World War I. Since that time, he said, the civilized world has shunned the use of such weapons.
“The evil and the despicable attack left mothers and fathers, infants and children thrashing in pain and gasping for air,” he said. “These are not the actions of a man. They are the crimes of a monster instead.”
The president also called out Russia and Iran, the two main backers of Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad.
“To Iran and to Russia, I ask, what kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women and children?” he said. “The nations of the world can be judged by the friends they keep.”
For a president who has been widely criticized for not using strong language against Russia, Trump framed Russia’s role in remarkably personal terms. He noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin had guaranteed in 2013 that Syria would give up all of its chemical weapons.
Putin failed, Trump said.
“Russia must decide if it will continue down this great path or if it will join with civilized nations as a force for stability and peace,” he said.
Trump’s action drew immediate support from Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), who issued a statement declaring the chemical attacks on children unacceptable.
“Assad must know his inhumane actions will not be tolerated,” said the senator. “I’ve met some of the Syrian families who fled Assad’s terror and are living in a refugee camp at the Turkish border.”
Trump said a small American force over the past year has virtually eliminated Islamic State control over what once was a vast territory spanning parts of Syria and Iraq.
The president said his administration also has rebuilt America’s friendships with countries of the Middle East and said he has asked those countries to contribute more to ensure stability in the region.
“We look forward to the day when we can bring our warriors home, and great warriors they are,” said Trump.
The commander-in-chief added, “In the last century, we looked straight into the darkest places of the human soul. We saw the anguish that can be unleashed and the evil that can take hold.”