25 April, Wednesday


Trump's strike on Syria has fire and fury — but not the element of surprise

Specialist view

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President Trump's order to strike Syria Friday night was as predictable as his Saturday morning tweet storms.
 
After a presidential campaign in which he repeatedly criticized Hillary Clinton for telegraphing her military plans to the enemy, Trump was hardly subtle in the run-up to the latest strike against Syria. 
 
"Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and 'smart!'" he tweeted on Wednesday. "You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!"
 
He backpedaled the next day, saying he never said when an attack would take place. "Could be very soon or not so soon at all!" he tweeted.
 
But as France and the United Kingdom signed on to a coalition, and Trump huddled repeatedly with his generals, it appeared increasingly clear that a military response was a matter of when and not if.
 
As U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May put it, "The fact of this attack should surprise no-one."
 
In her own address to the British people, May said diplomatic channels had failed to stop Syria's use of chemical weapons. "There is no practicable alternative to the use of force to degrade and deter the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime," she said.
 
Russia, too, was hardly caught off guard. The state-run Tass news agency reported earlier Friday that Russian ships were closely watching U.S. destroyers in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, from which air strikes would likely be launched. 
 
Five years ago, as a reality television personality, Trump said enemies should never know when an attack is coming.
 
Slide 6 of 26: Smoke rises after airstrikes targeting different parts of the Syrian capital Damascus, Syria, early Saturday, April 14, 2018. Syria's capital has been rocked by loud explosions that lit up the sky with heavy smoke as U.S. President Donald Trump announced airstrikes in retaliation for the country's alleged use of chemical weapons. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
 
"Why do we keep broadcasting when we are going to attack Syria," Trump tweeted in 2013, as President Barack Obama faced a similar decision to retaliate against the Assad regime for its use of chemical weapons. "Why can't we just be quiet and, if we attack at all, catch them by surprise?"
 
But Trump had created an expectation of action a year ago, when he ordered the launch of a missile strike from a conference room at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla. 
 
Then, the U.S. launched 59 cruise missiles on Shayrat Airfield, the base that U.S. officials said the Syrian regime had used to mount a chemical weapons attack killing at least 86 people two days before.
 
This time, it took Trump six days to respond to the suspected chemical weapons attack in the Syrian town of Douma. And each day, Trump seemed to ramp up the suspense.
 
On Monday, he said he would "be making some major decisions over the next 24 to 48 hours." On Tuesday, he said a decision would come that night. On Wednesday and Thursday came saber-rattling tweets.
 
Trump did not appear in public all day Friday — somewhat unusual for a president who enjoys frequent photo opportunities. His address to the nation Friday night came with little notice: The White House alerted television networks that it was coming but asked them not to report what was happening to ensure the safety of the operation.
 
But the timing — at exactly 9:01 p.m. — all but ensured a large prime-time audience. 
 
"Tonight, I ask all Americans to say a prayer for our noble warriors and our allies as they carry out their missions," Trump said.
 
"We pray that God will bring comfort to those suffering in Syria.  We pray that God will guide the whole region toward a future of dignity and of peace," he said. "And we pray that God will continue to watch over and bless the United States of America."

USA Today

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