WASHINGTON - This was the week when America was being praised around the world for punishing Syria’s evil, despotic, regime that killed scores of men, women and children with its arsenal of lethal chemical weapons.
It was certainly President Trump’s finest hour in global leadership, hailed by our allies, several of whom joined in a retaliatory attack to destroy much of Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons facilities.
Russia, Assad’s accomplice in murder and mayhem, called the attacks an “act of aggression.” Iran, who has bankrolled terrorist plots throughout the region, labeled it a “war crime.” And Syria, whose government is accused of crimes against humanity, had the nerve to call the U.S. bombings “barbarous.”
It was not only Trump’s largest use of military force to date, it was conducted against a nation that Vladimir Putin has fully supported militarily and financially in an unholy alliance between two dictators.
It represented a complete, if momentary turnaround by Trump who, up until now, has refused to condemn Putin’s duplicitous interference in America’s 2016 elections, or his alliance with Assad to crush a brutal, politically repressive dictatorship.
“Mission Accomplished,” Trump tweeted last Saturday in the aftermath of the U.S. and allied bombardment, vowing to repeat the attack if Syria dares to use chemical weapons again.
“I spoke to the president this morning, and he said, ‘If the Syrian regime uses this poisonous gas again, the United States is locked and loaded,’ ” U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley told an emergency Security Council meeting in the aftermath of the U.S.-led bombing raid.
“When our president draws a red line, our president enforces the red line,” she said.
Putin called on the U.N. to declare the air strikes a violation of international law, but only two nations —Bolivia and China — joined Russia in condemning the action in the 15-member Security Council.
Among his pitiful, hypocritical charges, Putin called the U.S. actions an attack on Syria’s sovereignty. But he didn’t care about Ukrainian sovereignty when he sent hoards of Russian troops into the Crimean peninsula and annexed it, before his forces drove deeply into eastern Ukraine.
But Trump seems to be hardening his attitude toward the Russians, at least when it comes to Syria’s chemical weapons.
When Russian officials bragged last week that they would shoot down any U.S. missiles aimed at chemical storage sites in Syria, Trump shot back on Twitter:
“Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’ ” According to news reports, the president's military advisers were surprised by Trump’s immediate threats, and no final decision on whether to strike or where had been reached.
But within a couple of days, military officials presented the White House with a list of targets and the president gave the order to attack.
It turned out that Russia did not attempt to shoot down our missiles, though almost all of the 40 Syrian surface-to-air missiles were fired, but had “no material effect” on the U.S. strikes, according to the Pentagon.
Throughout the Pentagon’s preparation for the missile strikes, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sought definitive evidence that Syria was behind the chemical attacks, but for days remained unconvinced.
But near the end last week, the evidence showed that Assad was clearly behind the horrible gas attacks, and by Sunday morning Trump decided the Syrian regime needed to be hit and hit hard.
“Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria,” he tweeted. “President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay.”
Notably, the president had carried out a clean attack on the chemical sites in Damascus without provoking the Russians.
“Before we took action, the United States communicated with the Russian Federation to reduce the danger of any Russian or civilian casualties,” said Jon Huntsman, Jr., U.S. ambassador in Moscow, in a video message to the Russians posted on social media last Saturday.
Trump had proved he could deal with the world’s bad guys on his terms, and it was no more Mr. Nice Guy.