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US missiles in Syria: Trump strikes a chord at home, but not with all

Criticism of Donald Trump’s decision to attack Syria came mostly on the grounds that the president’s actions — launching military strikes against another country — amounted to an act of war and he should have sought congressional approval for it. But most applauded the act.

world Updated: Apr 07, 2017 22:30 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Donald trump,US strike syria,bashar al assad
US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Porter conducts strike operations while in the Mediterranean Sea against Syria on Friday.(Reuters)

US President Donald Trump may not have reached that place yet where the entire country rallies behind him, critics and all, but the strikes he ordered against the horrific chemical weapons attack in Syria on Friday might be the closest he has gotten to it, with reactions ranging from “welcomed” to “cautiously welcomed”.

Criticism, of which there was no shortage from both liberals and conservatives, came mostly on the grounds that the president’s actions — launching military strikes against another country — amounted to an act of war and he should have sought congressional approval for it, as laid down in the constitution.

For the most part though, even Trump’s critics were supportive. The president was “right to strike at the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for using a weapon of mass destruction, the nerve agent sarin, against its own people,” wrote Antony J Blinken, deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration, in an op-ed in The New York Times, in which he went on to argue for the need for “smart diplomacy” now.

Blinken’s one-time boss Obama’s refusal to follow up on his threat of US retaliation when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad crossed a “red line” by ordering a chemical weapons attack in 2013 was among his most egregious foreign policy failures, and many in his administration and the party had felt frustrated by it.

Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was one of them, who had felt let down then. “Tonight’s missile strike was an appropriate response to Assad’s most recent chemical weapons attack on the Syrian people,” he said in a statement, adding, “War crimes have consequences.”

And there were those who wanted more. Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham praised the strikes and urged the president to go after “Assad’s air force — which is responsible not just for the latest chemical weapons attack, but countless atrocities against the Syrian people — completely out of the fight”.

Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the US Senate, was among those who offered support, but cautious support: “Making sure that Assad knows that when he commits such despicable atrocities he will pay a price is the right thing to do.” He went to ask the president to follow up the strikes with a strategy and consult congress before implementing it.

The point about congressional consultation and approval was made by many others on both sides of the aisle, such as Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, a former vice-presidential candidate, and Republican senator Rand Paul, a presidential candidate and a libertarian historically loathe to inserting America into conflicts and situations abroad.

There were those such as Elizabeth Warren, the firebrand Democratic senator, who said that while Assad needed to be held accountable for the chemical weapons attack, the United States must “embrace innocent people who are fleeing (Syria) in terror”. That was a reminder to the Trump administration which had proposed to ban refugees from Syria indefinitely.

And there was Tulsi Gabbard, the Democratic member of the House of Representatives who is among the highest-ranking US functionaries to have met Assad in person recently. She condemned the strikes saying it could lead to a “possible nuclear war between the United States and Russia”.

Moreover, she added in the statement, the Trump administration had acted “recklessly” without “waiting for the collection of evidence from the scene of the chemical poisoning”, suggesting it might have been the handiwork of someone else.

But, if Assad was indeed responsible for it, she would call for his prosecution and execution, the congresswoman said, but by the International Criminal Court and, not, she left unsaid, by the United States acting unilaterally.

First Published: Apr 07, 2017 22:29 IST