The Trump administration will be making a decision on how to respond to an alleged chemical weapons attack in the Syria town of Douma within the next forty-eight hours.
President Donald Trump said that the United States is currently examining the evidence and that military force remains an option. Trump promised a response even if his administration decides that Russia is responsible.
Asked if Russia bears responsibility for the alleged chemical attack, Trump said that the Kremlin might be culpable. “He [Russian President Vladimir Putin] may. Yeah, he may. And if he does, it’s going to be very tough. Very tough,” Trump said during a meeting of his cabinet on April 9. “Everybody is going to pay a price. He will. Everybody will.”
Trump said it will take roughly twenty-four hours for the United States to determine which party was responsible for the alleged chemical attack. “If it’s Russia, if it’s Syria, if it’s Iran, if it’s all of them together, we’ll figure it out and we’ll know the answers quite soon,” Trump said. “So we’re looking at that very, very strongly and very seriously.”
Trump noted that both the Russians and Syrians deny that there was such an attack. “They’re saying they’re not,” Trump said. “But to me, there’s not much of a doubt, but the generals will figure it out probably over the next 24 hours.”
Further, asked directly if military force is on the table as an option, Trump said that all options are on the table. “Nothing is off the table,” Trump said.
Who is to Blame?
Trump’s comments slightly softened his earlier tweets on April 8 where he directly blamed Russia, Syria and Iran for the alleged chemical attack. “Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world,” Trump had tweeted. “President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price... ....to pay. Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!”
Trump further asserted that had President Barack Obama launched a campaign against the Syrian regime in August 2012—when Damascus launched an earlier chemical attack against Syrian rebels—the current situation in Syria would have been averted. “If President Obama had crossed his stated Red Line In The Sand, the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago! Animal Assad would have been history!” Trump tweeted.
Right now it is unclear exactly who was responsible for the chemical attack in Douma, if, indeed, there was one. The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) claimed that Douma came under what appears to have to been a chemical weapons attack on Saturday, April 7, at 19:45 local time. “More than 500 cases -the majority of whom are women and children- were brought to local medical centers with symptoms indicative of exposure to a chemical agent,” SAMS said. “Patients have shown signs of respiratory distress, central cyanosis, excessive oral foaming, corneal burns, and the emission of chlorine-like odor.”
SAMS does not suggest which party was responsible for the attack. Instead, the organization has called for an investigation—and for an international intervention. “SAMS and the Syrian Civil Defense demand an immediate cease-fire in the city of Douma and the entry of international investigation teams from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to investigate this heinous chemical attack,” SAMS said. “SAMS, along with the Syrian Civil Defense call for the immediate intervention of the international community to enforce international law prohibiting the use of chemical weapons, and to ensure the protection of medical and humanitarian facilities to enable them to continue their lifesaving work.”
However, there has been no independent verification of the SAMS report—though the U.S. State Department believes the report is credible . The Kremlin, for one, rejects the very notion that there was a chemical attack on Douma. Moscow’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said that Russian forces, together with the Red Crescent organization , had found no evidence of a chemical attack. “Our military specialists have visited this place, along with representatives of the Syrian Red Crescent... and they did not find any trace of chlorine or any other chemical substance used against civilians," Lavrov said .
The Russians are asserting that evidence is being manufactured to essentially frame the Syrian government for the chemical attack. “False information is being planted about the alleged use of chlorine and other toxic agents by the Syrian government forces,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement . “The latest fake news about a chemical attack on Douma was reported yesterday. These reports are again referenced to the notorious White Helmets, which have been proved more than once to be working hand in glove with the terrorists, as well as to other pseudo-humanitarian organisations headquartered in the UK and the US.”