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Will President Trump Take Military Action In Syria?

Apr 10, 2018
Originally published on April 10, 2018 10:34 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump is trying to decide whether or not to use military power against the Syrian government. If he does, what might that military power look like? Last night, the president met with top military officials at the White House to talk about how to respond to the suspected chemical attack in Syria that happened last weekend in the town of Douma. Dozens of people were killed, including many children. And while the president did say that it would be met forcefully, he wouldn't say exactly how or when.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: In our world, we can't let that happen, especially when we're able to - because of the power of the United States, because of the power of our country, we're able to stop it.

MARTIN: With us now, NPR's Tom Bowman. He covers the Pentagon. Hey, Tom. Thanks for being here.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: What are you hearing? Does it sound like the president is leaning toward military action?

BOWMAN: Well, I think he is. He was certainly pretty tough talking last night, and he told reporters at the White House, quote, "we'll be letting you know pretty soon, probably after the fact." So it sounds like military action is imminent.

MARTIN: What would it look like?

BOWMAN: Well, Rachel, it'll look probably something similar to what we saw last year, almost exactly a year ago, when the Syrian regime was found to use chemical weapons against its own people. U.S. warships fired dozens of cruise missiles at an airfield outside Damascus. They destroyed a number of Syrian fighter jets, shelters, storage areas, radar systems. It's important to note that an American warship right now, the USS Donald Cook, is in the eastern Mediterranean. It just left a port visit in Cyprus, so that ship could be used for any type of military action. That ship carries Tomahawk cruise missiles.

MARTIN: But as you noted, the administration has gone after Bashar al-Assad before for using chemical weapons. And that military strike didn't prevent Assad from using them again. So what would have to be different this time, presuming that that is the goal, to get him to stop doing this?

BOWMAN: Well, it could be wider airstrikes, more locations, command and control centers and so forth, to send the message. But you're right. He continues to use chemical weapons. He uses a lot of chlorine in some of his attacks and the barrel bombs and so forth. And he's clearing out, it seems like, the last areas of rebel fighters east and north of Damascus. So it's possible he could just continue to use chemical weapons.

MARTIN: So wasn't it just days ago, though, that President Trump said that this is basically none of our business and that he wants the U.S. to pull out of Syria altogether. This is - this attack has clearly changed his calculus.

BOWMAN: Well, it did on the narrow issue of chemical weapons. He said it's atrocious. You're killing people. We have to deal with this. But you're right. He said we want American troops out very soon. The military kind of talked him out of it and said, listen, we need about six more months or more to finish off ISIS. And that's been the American focus from day one - defeating ISIS, doing away with this caliphate. But the larger strategy of what to do in Syria, what happens with Assad, how do you deal with Russia and Iran in Syria - there really is no strategy. I was talking with a senior general recently. He said, you know, the Turks are fighting our allies the Kurds. We just attacked some Russian mercenaries, and we're fighting ISIS, but we really have no sense of the way ahead here. And that's, I found, remarkable.

MARTIN: On this narrow issue of responding to this particular chemical weapons attack, does it seem like the administration would do this unilaterally or look for some kind of support for other - from other allies?

BOWMAN: It looks like there'll be some support from allies. President Trump had a couple of conversations with French President Emmanuel Macron, and Macron has been quite tough in talking about this. So it's possible you could see some French involvement in any sort of military action and also the British as well. But, again, it seems like some military action is imminent.

MARTIN: NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman for us this morning. Hey, Tom, thanks so much.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.