President Donald Trump announced shortly after 9 pm EST Friday that he ordered U.S. armed forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
A combined operation with the armed forces of France and the United Kingdom is underway.
“The purpose of our actions tonight is to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread, and use of chemical weapons. Establishing this deterrent is a vital national security interest of the United States,” said Trump in a televised address.
“The combined American, British, and French response to these atrocities will integrate all instruments of our national power -- military, economic, and diplomatic. We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents.”
According to the White House, the actions came after Assad launched a “savage chemical weapons attack against his own innocent people" a year ago. That action resulted in the U.S. responding with 58 missile strikes that reportedly destroyed 20 percent of the Syrian Air Force.
Last Saturday, the Assad regime again deployed chemical weapons against civilians, said the president, this time in the town of Douma, near the Syrian capital of Damascus.
“The evil and the despicable attack left mothers and fathers, infants and children, thrashing in pain and gasping for air. These are not the actions of a man; they are crimes of a monster instead,” said Trump.
He also warned Russia and Iran, describing them as “the two governments most responsible for supporting, equipping, and financing” the Assad regime in a country embroiled in a deadly Civil War since 2011. Upwards of a quarter million people have died, by some estimates.
“To Iran, and to Russia, I ask: What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women, and children?
“The nations of the world can be judged by the friends they keep,” he continued. “No nation can succeed in the long run by promoting rogue states, brutal tyrants, and murderous dictators,” Trump said.
Some lawmakers are already questioning the legality and domestic and international implications of the strikes.
In a statement to ESSENCE, Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY), said the president must come to Congress and secure the approval required for military action.
“Bashar al-Assad must be held accountable for his use of chemical weapons against civilians, however these current strikes are being carried out without the authorization of the United States Congress. This is unacceptable,” she said.
Clarke added however, that “President Trump must also hold Putin accountable for his enabling of the Assad regime’s atrocities against the Syrian people.”
In a statement, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) also said that it is Congress, not the president, which has the constitutional responsibility for making war.
“The international community must uphold the prohibition against the use of chemical weapons, but it is unclear how President Trump's illegal and unauthorized strikes on Syria tonight will achieve that goal. After 17 years of war in Afghanistan and 15 years of war in Iraq, we need a political strategy to bring peace and stability to the region, not more U.S. military intervention."
Russia is reportedly warning that the U.S. actions will not be without consequences.