John McCain blasts Trump's inaction after more Syrian attacks

"Emboldened by American inaction, Assad has reportedly launched another chemical attack," wrote Sen. John McCain

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published April 9, 2018 9:02AM (EDT)

John McCain (Ron Sachs)
John McCain (Ron Sachs)

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is criticizing President Donald Trump for his handling of foreign policy yet again — this time blaming him for Syria's aggression against its own citizens.

"President Trump last week signaled to the world that the United States would prematurely withdraw from Syria. Bashar Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers have heard him, and emboldened by American inaction, Assad has reportedly launched another chemical attack against innocent men, women and children, this time in Douma," McCain declared in a statement on Sunday. "Initial accounts show dozens of innocent civilians, including children, have been targeted by this vicious bombardment designed to burn and choke the human body and leave victims writhing in unspeakable pain."

He added that, while "President Trump was quick to call out Assad today, along with the Russian and Iranian governments, on Twitter," it remained to be seen whether he would "do anything about it." According to McCain, the president should react in the same way that he did to Assad's use of chemical weapons against his own citizens last year, in order to "demonstrate that Assad will pay a price for his war crimes."

McCain did not miss the opportunity to take a swipe at Trump's Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, either, writing that Trump "inherited bad options after years of inaction by his predecessor in Syria. History will render a bitter judgment on America for that failure."

The Arizona senator and 2008 Republican presidential nominee has a long history of disagreeing with Trump. He has parted ways with the president on everything from the Obamacare repeal, which McCain famously torpedoed with a thumbs down vote last year, to the underlying premises of foreign policy, which McCain has repeatedly expressed concern would abandon America's leadership role in the world.

In the Twitter posts on Sunday to which McCain seemed to be referring, Trump expressed outrage at the reports that Syria had engaged in chemical attacks against its own citizens. He also took an uncharacteristically hardline stance against a nation with whom he has normally been sympathetic or at least silent, Russia.

The most recent example of Syrian atrocities occurred on Saturday, when there was a chemical attack on the city of Douma, according to the BBC. Douma is currently held by rebel forces and is believed to have been attacked by the Syrian government for that reason, although both Syria and Russia deny that the regime of Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the attacks. The BBC report also included graphic details about the human toll caused by the Syrian chemical attack against its own people.

One video, recorded by rescue workers known as the White Helmets, shows a number of men, women and children lying lifeless inside a house, many with foam at their mouths.

Other unverified footage shows young children crying as they are treated in a makeshift medical unit.

While it is unclear what, if anything, Trump plans on doing about the latest Syrian aggression against its own people, he took a controversial step in addressing the problem last April. After it was revealed that the Syrian government had killed dozens of its own civilians with a chemical attack, Trump ordered 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles to be launched from the airbase that had housed the warplanes which carried out that attack. That marked the first time that America engaged in direct military action against the Assad regime since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, and it was a decision that alienated many of Trump's far right, pro-Russia supporters, according to The New York Times.

"There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and ignored the urging of the UN Security Council. Years of previous attempts at changing Assad's behavior have all failed and failed very dramatically," Trump said at the time.

On Monday, several missiles hit an air base in Syria in an attack that seemed to be a response to the chemical weapons being used against Syria's own people, according to The Wall Street Journal. There is doubt as to whether the chemical attacks were really the catalyst behind those strikes, however: The T-4 air base, which goes by the name of Tiyas, is not a chemical weapons facility and is instead notorious because Israel has accused the Assad regime of having an Iranian base there in order to provide weapons to the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah. Russia blames Israel for the attack, and Syria claims that, because of the direction from which the missiles struck the air base, they also believe Israel might be responsible for it. Israel refused to claim responsibility for the strikes but did support them, with some officials saying that Assad should be removed from power.

For the most part, Israel has avoided getting involved in the Syrian civil war aside from taking military actions to thwart attempted weaponization of Hezbollah from Iran. In recent years, however, Israel has grown concerned that the Assad regime will allow Iran to use military locations and weapons factories in Syria in order to attack Israel.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Chemical Attacks Donald Trump Israel John Bolton Russia Syria Terrorism Vladimir Putin