To quote The Dude from “The Big Lebowski,” the widely expected military strikes on Syria are a complicated matter with “a lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot of ‘what have yous,’ and a lot of strands to keep in my head, man.”
“Could be very soon or not so soon at all!” Trump tweeted. “In any event, the United States, under my Administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our ‘Thank you America?’”
That boast came about a day after Trump tweeted for Russia to “get ready,” because U.S. missiles “will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’” Officials later said no decisions on a Syria strike had been made when the commander in chief tweeted that.
In fact, Defense Secretary James Mattis told lawmakers today that he will provide the White House with military options against the Syrian regime, but the president has not yet settled on a course of action.
“Today, our president did say that he’s not made a decision,” Mattis told the House Armed Services Committee. “I will tell you when I leave here I’m going to a meeting — the National Security Council will be meeting on this, and we will take forward the various options to the president.”
When lawmakers pressed Mattis on what legal authority the United States would have to attack Syria, he said the president has the authority to protect U.S. troops in Syria from chemical weapons attacks.
“The use of chemical weapons in Syria is not something we should assume: Well, because he didn’t use them on us this time, he wouldn’t use them on us next time,” said Mattis, who also promised to have the Pentagon’s lawyers provide Congress with a formal reply.
Mattis strongly condemned the alleged poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter by a nerve agent in England and the reported chemical attack on Syrian civilians as affronts to civilization. It is in the United States’ best interests that international agreements banning the use of chemical weapons be obeyed, he said.
While he believes the Syrian regime launched a chemical weapons attack on April 7, Mattis said inspectors with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons have yet to arrive on the scene. If the regime does allow an investigation, the inspectors will not be able to determine who launched a chemical attack, he said.
“They can only say that they found evidence or did not, and as each day goes by — as you know, it’s a non-persistent gas, so it becomes more and more difficult to confirm it,” Mattis said.
Any U.S. military strikes against Syria raise the possibility of a wider conflict with Russia, which has backed the Syrian regime militarily and has troops and private contractors on the ground. Recently, the Russian ambassador to Lebanon has vowed that Russia will shoot down any U.S. cruise missiles launched at Syria.
Mattis declined to speculate about the possibility that Russia would respond militarily to any U.S. strikes on Syria, but he said he was concerned about “how do we keep this from escalating out of control, if you get my drift on that.”
Islamic state members walk in the last besieged neighborhood in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria February 18, 2019. (Reuters/Rodi Said)
NEAR BAGHOUZ, Syria (Reuters) - The Islamic State appeared closer to defeat in its last enclave in eastern Syria on Wednesday, as a civilian convoy left the besieged area where U.S.-backed forces estimate a few hundred jihadists are still holed up.
Russian President Vladimir Putin fires a fortress cannon. (Associated Press/Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin)
Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Wednesday that Russia will target the U.S. with new weapons should Washington decide to deploy intermediate-range ballistic missiles (ICBMs) to Europe following the recent death of a Cold War-era arms control agreement, according to multiple reports.
He threatened to target not only the host countries where U.S. missiles might be stationed but also decision-making centers in the U.S.
U.S. Air Force Airmen assigned to the 317th Airlift Wing walk to waiting family members and friends after stepping off of a C-130J Super Hercules at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, Sept. 17, 2018 (U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Mercedes Porter)
The U.S. Air Force has issued new guidelines for active-duty, reserve and National Guard airmen who are considered non-deployable, and officials will immediately begin flagging those who have been unable to deploy for 12 consecutive months for separation consideration.