According to several sources within the administration, President Donald Trump is seriously considering military action against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad after a chemical weapons attack killed scores of people and drew international condemnation. CNN reported Thursday that Trump had spoken to several Republicans on Capitol Hill about the possibility of moving forward with a strike.
The source said the President had not firmly decided to go ahead with it but said he was discussing possible actions with Defense Secretary James Mattis.
Trump is relying on the judgment of Mattis, according to the source.
US officials tell CNN the Pentagon has long-standing options to strike Syria’s chemical weapons capability and has presented those options to the administration.
The sources stressed a decision has not been made.
On Wednesday, it was obvious that the attack, which claimed the lives of more than 70 people, struck a nerve with the businessman-turned-president.
“Yesterday’s chemical attack, a chemical attack that was so horrific in Syria – against innocent people, including women, small children, and even beautiful little babies – their deaths were an affront to humanity,” Trump said in a press conference with King Abdullah of Jordan. “These heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated. The United States stands with our allies across the globe to condemn this horrific attack.”
While a military strike is on the table – and supported by some in Congress, including Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham – it will not be an easy decision to make. Trump has been forthright when it comes to his view of military intervention in the Middle East, and there is very little public appetite for another war in the desert.
Then there is the issue of Russia, which is currently supporting Assad. A U.S. strike against Syria could be seen as a proxy strike against Russia, raising the stakes to an almost unimaginable degree. And while it’s possible – probable, even – that Putin would back down in the face of a U.S.-led military invasion, there’s always the chance that he wouldn’t. That could lead Trump to face two stark choices: Back down on the global stage…or go to war with a nuclear-armed country.
Military intervention, of course, does not need to mean a full-scale war. The U.S. could launch calculated strikes against Assad’s air force, effectively grounding them and rendering his most valuable military asset obsolete. But then, if Putin simply lets his air force become Syria’s, it may be for nothing.
The best case scenario at this point is for Trump to find a way to divide Putin from Assad, and that’s going to be complicated when there’s all this heat surrounding the 2016 election. Perhaps Democrats will see that their silly allegations are obscuring a viable path forward on Syria and start governing again.
But probably not.