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How Trump Administration Will Respond To Syria Chemical Attack


Reports of another chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government against civilians raises the question of how the Trump administration will respond. President Trump took to Twitter this morning to accuse Russia and Iran of propping up the regime of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. And speaking on ABC's "This Week," White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert suggested all options were on the table for a response.


TOM BOSSERT: This isn't just the United States. This is one of those issues on which every nation, all peoples have all agreed and have agreed since World War II is an unacceptable practice.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: With us to discuss the Trump administration's possible responses is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In his tweets, President Trump said, big price to pay. What do you think that means?

LIASSON: That's a good question. Doesn't seem like they've made up their minds yet about how they're going to respond. The president also tweeted, quote, "President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing the Assad regime." Now, this is the first time that Trump has ever criticized Putin by name. And this attack happened exactly one year to the day after Trump responded to a previous chemical weapons attack in Syria with a limited airstrike. At the time, he said, when he lays down a red line, he means it, unlike Obama, who was weak and feckless. And he tried to say that he really means business. Well, a year later, the Syrians don't seem to be too scared of him. So big question - what he's going to do now - more military attacks or not.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And it's unclear what his intentions are. I mean, just this past week, Trump had been saying that he wants to end American involvement in Syria and withdraw American troops currently stationed around there. How do you see these statements squaring with those intentions?

LIASSON: Well, that is a really big question because at the time he said that, many military experts said that you are just giving a green light to Assad, just the same kind of thing that President Trump accused President Obama of - saying you're gonna pull out just lets the bad guys wait you out. And it's possible that his statements, which happened just last week, could've given the Syrian regime a green light to go ahead and use chemical weapons again because they don't think he has the stomach to stay there.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, we should say these are alleged chemical weapons attacks. We don't really know yet exactly what happened. But in his tweets, Trump also blamed the Obama administration. And this is a favorite subject for him. But in this case, he talked about the Obama administration not acting forcefully enough with Syria when it had the chance to do so. What's the message he's trying to send with that?

LIASSON: I think it's a political message. He tweeted, if President Obama had crossed his stated red line in the sand, the Syrian disaster would've ended long ago. Animal Assad would've been history. So I think politically, he's doing what a lot of presidents do, which is blame their predecessor, saying, it wasn't my fault. The problem is that when you're in your second year in office - it's one thing if you've just been in office a couple months, but at some point, it becomes your responsibility. And blaming your predecessor makes you look whiny and weak. President Obama did the same thing. He used to blame George W. Bush for leaving him a mess in Iraq. But now President Trump is doing the same thing. President Obama was criticized for this, and I think President Trump will be criticized for not taking responsibility himself.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: If we see an action by the president, how quickly could that happen?

LIASSON: I think it could happen very quickly. If he wants airstrikes, he can do that. Couple questions - No. 1, will he do it? No. 2, will it make a difference? - since the last one doesn't seem to. And No. 3, he stated he wants to get out of Syria. Does he still want to get out of Syria? Because he said other people should solve that problem. Well, guess what? They are, and those other people are Russia, Iran and the Syrian regime.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thank you so much.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
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