President Trump has told senior members of Congress he is considering military strikes against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, according to reports. If confirmed, the new policy would be a radical departure from what Trump said previously and during his election campaign, but the president is believed to have concluded regime change may now be the only solution to the conflict.
Attacks on chemical weapon facilities are one option thought to be under consideration, as is the targeting of Syria's air strips. A Trump administration official who remained anonymous in order to speak out, told the Mail that the president's new strategy was partly to "telegraph to Assad – and to Russia – that he's deadly serious."
Trump's apparent change of view was backed in a joint statement by Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham who said: "In addition to other measures, the United States should lead an international coalition to ground Assad's air force. This capability provides Assad a strategic advantage in his brutal slaughter of innocent civilians, both through the use of chemical weapons as well as barrel bombs, which kill far more men, women and children on a daily basis."
Trump's volte-face appears to have been prompted by the chemical weapon attack in Khan Sheikhoun by forces loyal to the regime in which at least 72 died from suspected sarin gas. Syria has denied responsibility but the international community has ferociously condemned the attack, with even Russia — al-Assad's ally — reportedly saying support for the regime was not unconditional.
However the no-fly-zone option could potentially lead to problems with Russia, whose air force are over Syria bombing what it says are terrorist targets. Russia's President Putin defended al-Assad in a telephone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Moscow's official line is that an investigation must take place before governments made what it called "groundless accusations."
During the 2016 presidential elections, Trump repeatedly condemned the Obama administration for its foreign policy, saying: "I don't like Assad at all, but Assad is killing Isis. Russia is killing Isis and Iran is killing Isis." However during his statement in the White House Rose Garden on Wednesday Trump slammed former president Barack Obama's Syria strategy.
"These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the last administration's weakness and irresolution," said Trump. "President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a 'red line' against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing."
Some media outlets pointed out that in 2013 when Obama was himself mulling military action Trump tweeted: "AGAIN, TO OUR VERY FOOLISH LEADER, DO NOT ATTACK SYRIA - IF YOU DO MANY VERY BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN & FROM THAT FIGHT THE U.S. GETS NOTHING!"