Two days present two crises for a new pres­i­dent

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - MATT MACKOWIAK Matt Mackowiak is the pres­i­dent of Austin­based Potomac Strat­egy Group, a Repub­li­can con­sul­tant, a Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion and Bush-Cheney re-elec­tion cam­paign vet­eran, and a former press sec­re­tary to two U.S. sen­a­tors. He is the host of a nati

In just 24 hours this week, Pres­i­dent Trump found him­self fac­ing a pair of wor­ry­ing for­eign crises with no easy op­tions in sight. The forces of Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad re­port­edly de­ployed chem­i­cal weapons against in­no­cent Syr­ian cit­i­zens in the north­ern city of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib prov­ince, a re­bel­held area.

News ac­counts de­scribe vic­tims writhing in pain and strug­gling to breathe, with dy­ing chil­dren chok­ing, gasp­ing and foam­ing at the mouth. The vic­tims were ex­posed to sus­pected nerve gas af­ter Syr­ian war­planes dropped bombs in an early-morn­ing raid. Rus­sia, Syria’s ally, said it was not proved that the As­sad regime was re­spon­si­ble, but top Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials said there was lit­tle doubt that Syria was to blame.

This chem­i­cal at­tack ap­pears to be the worst in Syria since Au­gust 2013, when

Mr. As­sad used sarin gas to kill more than 1,000 peo­ple in the sub­urbs of Da­m­as­cus. The hor­ri­fy­ing pic­tures and video of this lat­est at­tack spread around the world overnight. Wed­nes­day morn­ing, Bassma Kod­mani, a Syr­ian aca­demic and former spokes­woman of the anti-As­sad Syr­ian Na­tional Coun­cil, told MSNBC’s “Morn­ing Joe” that the bombers were “Rus­sian-made” but had “Syr­ian pi­lots.”

Al­most four years ago, Moscow promised that all of Syria’s chem­i­cal weapons stock­piles had been re­moved from the coun­try, a prom­ise that was ei­ther a lie at that time or a prom­ise that was bro­ken as new weapons were brought it.

Mr. As­sad, with the help of the Rus­sians and the Ira­ni­ans, re­took Aleppo in De­cem­ber, a con­quest that Mr. As­sad has called “as much a vic­tory for Rus­sia and Iran and it is for his own coun­try.” Mr. As­sad called re­tak­ing Aleppo a “ba­sic step on the road to end­ing ter­ror­ism in the whole of Syr­ian ter­ri­tory and cre­at­ing the right cir­cum­stances for a so­lu­tion to end the war.”

But in a force­ful con­dem­na­tion of the at­tack, U.S. Am­bas­sador to the U.N. Nikki Ha­ley said, “We think that [Mr. As­sad] has been a hin­drance to peace for a long time. He’s a war crim­i­nal. What he’s done to his peo­ple is noth­ing more than dis­gust­ing.”

But the sharp words can’t con­ceal the fact that no easy so­lu­tion to the Syr­ian chal­lenge is avail­able to the Trump White House.

Blam­ing the feck­less pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion’s in­ac­tion and fail­ure to en­force Pres­i­dent Obama’s “red line” warn­ing may be com­fort­ing, but this in­ter­na­tional cri­sis has landed on Mr. Trump’s desk. What mat­ters now is what he will do about it.

Will he en­force a no-fly zone inside Syria to pro­tect refugees? Will he arm the anti-As­sad Syr­ian rebels? Will he sup­port bring­ing a war crimes in­dict­ment against Mr. As­sad? Will he de­mand that Rus­sia and Iran leave Syria? Will his ad­min­is­tra­tion now in­sist that Mr. As­sad must leave and that the U.S. will re­main com­mit­ted to achiev­ing that end?

Even as that cri­sis was ex­plod­ing, Mr. Trump was pre­par­ing to re­ceive Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping for two days of bi­lat­eral meet­ings at Mara-Lago start­ing Thurs­day, the first time the two world lead­ers will meet face to face. Again, Mr. Trump will face a del­i­cate diplo­matic chal­lenge at a time when global events are press­ing in.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Xi meet as North Korea has again fired a bal­lis­tic missile into the East Sea/Sea of Ja­pan, at least the sev­enth such test launch in the past year.

In re­sponse, Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son re­leased a terse and mys­te­ri­ous 23-word state­ment say­ing, “North Korea launched yet an­other in­ter­me­di­ate range bal­lis­tic missile. The United States has spo­ken enough about North Korea. We have no fur­ther com­ment.”

This is the same Mr. Tiller­son who in Seoul, South Korea, on March 19 warned that “all op­tions are on the ta­ble” with North Korea, a state­ment that makes clear that mil­i­tary ac­tion is be­ing con­sid­ered.

North Korean in­sta­bil­ity is a greater threat to China than it is to the U.S. So far, Beijing has been un­will­ing to take spe­cific and cred­i­ble steps to pres­sure the North Korean regime to aban­don its nu­clear pro­gram.

Will Mr. Trump ef­fec­tively trade real Chi­nese ac­tion on North Korea for some con­ces­sion that China wants? Will the U.S. take other ef­fec­tive steps to de­ter North Korea? What are the op­tions, and what is the risk of mil­i­tary ac­tion?

It is not un­usual for new pres­i­dents to be tested in­ter­na­tion­ally in their first months in of­fice. But Mr. Trump is fac­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ous in­ter­na­tional crises of un­usual ur­gency and com­plex­ity.

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