Amid praise, Trump faces ques­tions on Syria pol­icy

U.S. strat­egy un­cer­tain after mis­sile strike

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Laura King

WASHINGTON — As Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump basks in wide­spread ap­proval for the U.S.-led mis­sile strike aimed at Syr­ian chem­i­cal weapons in­stal­la­tions, the White House still faces a quandary over U.S. pol­icy to­ward that coun­try’s civil war — as well as some sharp ques­tions about the pres­i­dent’s war pow­ers.

Trump has yet to ar­tic­u­late a long-term U.S. strat­egy for deal­ing with the grind­ing, mul­ti­sided war in Syria, which has lasted more than seven years, killed hun­dreds of thou­sands and trig­gered an epic refugee cri­sis.

Only days be­fore the mis­sile at­tack, Trump called for a rapid U.S. troop with­drawal from Syria, which crit­ics said would yield con­trol of the coun­try to Rus­sia and Iran, key al­lies of Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was among those who said that Trump’s words had “em­bold­ened” As­sad to use chem­i­cal weapons.

Now, Trump is promis­ing to keep troops in Syria, ac­cord­ing to France’s pres­i­dent. Trump also plans new sanc­tions on Rus­sian

com­pa­nies, ac­cord­ing to Nikki Ha­ley, the U.S. am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions.

Sev­eral law­mak­ers as­serted Sun­day that the pres­i­dent should have sought con­gres­sional ap­proval for the mis­sile strike, launched in re­sponse to re­ports of deadly poi­son gas strikes on a re­bel­held sub­urb of Da­m­as­cus. Congress, how­ever, re­peat­edly has ducked votes on Syria pol­icy.

But even some peo­ple who have ex­pressed ve­he­ment pub­lic dis­agree­ment with Trump’s pre­vi­ous ac­tions voiced sup­port for the strike, which was car­ried out in co­or­di­na­tion with Bri­tain and France.

For­mer CIA Di­rec­tor John Bren­nan was among those who praised the ac­tion as “pro­por­tional and nec­es­sary to send a sig­nal.”

Speak­ing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Bren­nan said “the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ac­tions against Syria were ap­pro­pri­ate — and I tend to be a critic of this ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

In the longer term, though, Bren­nan said, so­lu­tions in Syria would prob­a­bly prove elu­sive.

Pen­tagon of­fi­cials have said the strike sig­nif­i­cantly dam­aged Syria’s ca­pac­ity to re­search and pro­duce chem­i­cal weapons. But they have not claimed the strike elim­i­nated As­sad’s abil­ity to carry out chem­i­cal at­tacks.

Some in the ad­min­is­tra­tion painted the strike as a pos­si­ble por­tent of greater Amer­i­can in­volve­ment in the Syr­ian conflict. Ha­ley warned that re­newed use of chem­i­cal weapons against Syr­ian civil­ians by As­sad could trig­ger fur­ther U.S. mil­i­tary ac­tion. “Should he use it again, the pres­i­dent [Trump] has made it very clear that the United States is locked and loaded and ready to go,” Ha­ley said on “Fox News Sun­day.”

Ha­ley ac­knowl­edged that Trump’s goal is to “see Amer­i­can troops come home.” But a pull­out would not take place be­fore the mil­i­tants of Is­lamic State had been de­feated and fur­ther use of chem­i­cal weapons pre­cluded, she said.

Hav­ing se­cured French and Bri­tish par­tic­i­pa­tion in the mis­sile strike, Trump might be more obliged to heed their coun­sel on longterm ob­jec­tives in Syria.

French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron said Sun­day that de­spite Trump’s talk of a U.S. troop with­drawal, “we have con­vinced him that it is nec­es­sary to stay for the long term.”

Ha­ley ar­gued that Rus­sia shares blame for the chem­i­cal at­tack, even if it had no di­rect in­volve­ment. To that end, she said, Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven Mnuchin would an­nounce new sanc­tions Mon­day against Rus­sian com­pa­nies with links to the Syr­ian govern­ment’s chem­i­cal weapons infrastructure.

In the Fox in­ter­view, Ha­ley said that “As­sad knew that Rus­sia had its back” and that the Syr­ian leader “got reck­less” in the sus­pected chem­i­cal at­tack in Douma on April 7.

The mis­sile strike has gen­er­ated con­cern among some mem­bers of Congress that it could presage a mil­i­tary es­ca­la­tion.

One of the sharpest cri­tiques came from Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., who was Hil­lary Clin­ton’s run­ning mate in the 2016 elec­tion.

“Pres­i­dent Trump is not a king; he’s a pres­i­dent,” Kaine said on “Face the Na­tion,” and Trump is “sup­posed to come to Congress to seek per­mis­sion to ini­ti­ate a war.”

Some of Trump’s fel­low Re­pub­li­cans also ex­pressed un­ease over the po­ten­tial for U.S. es­ca­la­tion in Syria with­out leg­isla­tive in­put. Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa sup­ported the strikes but said on “Meet the Press” that she was “un­com­fort­able go­ing for­ward.”

Re­fer­ring to a con­gres­sional au­tho­riza­tion for the use of mil­i­tary force, she said: “As many of my col­leagues have also stated, we need a new AUMF,” or au­tho­riza­tion for use of mil­i­tary force.

Rus­sia sig­naled de­fi­ance. A Krem­lin state­ment Sun­day quoted Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin as hav­ing told Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani that the mis­sile strike was a vi­o­la­tion of the United Na­tions char­ter and that fu­ture such ac­tions “will in­evitably lead to chaos in in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions.”

Trump’s use of the phrase “Mis­sion Ac­com­plished” in a tweet on Satur­day also raised eye­brows be­cause it is closely as­so­ci­ated with for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s pre­ma­ture dec­la­ra­tion of vic­tory in Iraq in 2003.

In a tweet on Sun­day morn­ing, the pres­i­dent in­sisted that he was fully aware of the phrase’s weighted im­pli­ca­tions about U.S. mis­cal­cu­la­tions in the Mid­dle East.

“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,’ ” he wrote on Twit­ter. “I knew they would seize on this but felt it is such a great Mil­i­tary term, it should be brought back.

“Use of­ten!” he said.

HAS­SAN AMMAR/AP

Syr­i­ans walk Sun­day in a mar­ket in the Old City of Da­m­as­cus. Some in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion painted last week’s strike as a pos­si­ble por­tent of greater U.S. in­volve­ment in Syria.

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