“A short time ago, I ordered the United States Armed Forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad,” the president said in a nearly 8-minute address. Watch it above; the transcript is below.
Trump did not offer many details of the strikes but said they would continue until the chemical attacks cease. But that statement was refuted less than an hour later during a Pentagon press briefing by Defense Secretary Gen. James Mattis and Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Mattis stressed that tonight’s action was a one-time shot purely on chemical weapons facilities. You can watch that news conference below.
British news service ITM reports that UK jets have taken off from Cyprus, but it didn’t specify where they were headed. Some U.S. news outlets with staffers on the ground in Syria are reporting the sound of explosions outside the capital of Damascus.
The president’s move comes in response to the recent chemical attack on civilian populations in Douma. “The evil and the despicable attack left mothers and fathers, infants and children, thrashing in pain and gasping for air,” Trump said of the recent chemical attack. “These are not the actions of a man, they are crimes of a monster instead.”
“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. No nation can succeed in the long run by promoting rogue states, brutal tyrants, and murderous dictators.”
He added later: “Today, the nations of Britain, France and the United States of America have marshaled their righteous power against barbarism and brutality.”
The announcement hijacked the news cycle on the wild final day of an even wilder week for the Trump administration. Among the Friday stories that likely would have led the news on any other day: reaction to James Comey’s new book and the GOP coordinated plan to discredit him and the FBI; Comey starting his PR tour for A Higher Loyalty and talking about the supposed Russian-hookers pee tape; word that Trump’s personal lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen is facing a criminal investigation; a particularly vicious stream of POTUS tweets; a White House Press Briefing in which the mouthpiece for the president of the United States trashed the leadership of the country’s intelligence community; and Trump pardoning Scooter Libby, the former Chief of Staff to Vice President Dick Cheney who was convicted of lying to Congress about the Valerie Plame scandal.
The White House press pool reports that among those in the room with Trump during his remarks were White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and newly installed National Security Adviser John Bolton, who “held a yellow legal pad of paper and a pen and periodically made notes.” The pool also reported seeing White House Chief of Staff John Kelly in the hallway along with Social Media Director Dan Scavino, speechwriter and senior policy adviser Stephen Miller.
Here is the transcript of Trump’s speech, from the White House Press Office — followed by the administration’s talking points:
My fellow Americans, a short time ago, I ordered the United States Armed Forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. A combined operation with the armed forces of France and the United Kingdom is now underway. We thank them both.
Tonight, I want to speak with you about why we have taken this action.
One year ago, Assad launched a savage chemical weapons attack against his own innocent people. The United States responded with 58 missile strikes that destroyed 20 percent of the Syrian Air Force.
Last Saturday, the Assad regime again deployed chemical weapons to slaughter innocent civilians — this time, in the town of Douma, near the Syrian capital of Damascus. This massacre was a significant escalation in a pattern of chemical weapons use by that very terrible regime.
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.
Following the horrors of World War I a century ago, civilized nations joined together to ban chemical warfare. Chemical weapons are uniquely dangerous not only because they inflict gruesome suffering, but because even small amounts can unleash widespread devastation.
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. 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.
I also have a message tonight for the two governments most responsible for supporting, equipping, and financing the criminal Assad regime.
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. No nation can succeed in the long run by promoting rogue states, brutal tyrants, and murderous dictators.
In 2013, President Putin and his government promised the world that they would guarantee the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons. Assad’s recent attack — and today’s response — are the direct result of Russia’s failure to keep that promise.
Russia must decide if it will continue down this dark path, or if it will join with civilized nations as a force for stability and peace. Hopefully, someday we’ll get along with Russia, and maybe even Iran — but maybe not.
I will say this: The United States has a lot to offer, with the greatest and most powerful economy in the history of the world.
In Syria, the United States — with but a small force being used to eliminate what is left of ISIS — is doing what is necessary to protect the American people. Over the last year, nearly 100 percent of the territory once controlled by the so-called ISIS caliphate in Syria and Iraq has been liberated and eliminated.
The United States has also rebuilt our friendships across the Middle East. We have asked our partners to take greater responsibility for securing their home region, including contributing large amounts of money for the resources, equipment, and all of the anti-ISIS effort. Increased engagement from our friends, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Egypt, and others can ensure that Iran does not profit from the eradication of ISIS.
America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria under no circumstances. As other nations step up their contributions, we look forward to the day when we can bring our warriors home. And great warriors they are.
Looking around our very troubled world, Americans have no illusions. We cannot purge the world of evil, or act everywhere there is tyranny.
No amount of American blood or treasure can produce lasting peace and security in the Middle East. It’s a troubled place. We will try to make it better, but it is a troubled place. The United States will be a partner and a friend, but the fate of the region lies in the hands of its own people.
In the last century, we looked straight into the darkest places of the human soul. We saw the anguish that can be unleashed and the evil that can take hold. By the end of the World War I, more than one million people had been killed or injured by chemical weapons. We never want to see that ghastly specter return.
So today, the nations of Britain, France, and the United States of America have marshaled their righteous power against barbarism and brutality.
Tonight, I ask all Americans to say a prayer for our noble warriors and our allies as they carry out their missions.
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.
And we pray that God will continue to watch over and bless the United States of America.
Thank you, and goodnight. Thank you.
Here are the administration’s Syria talking points, also from the White House Press Office:
PRESIDENT DONALD J. TRUMP HAS TAKEN ACTION TO STOP SYRIAN CHEMICAL WEAPONS USE
“I call on all civilized nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria.” – President Donald J. Trump
CALL FOR ACTION IN SYRIA: President Donald J. Trump is joining with allies to call on Syria and Syria’s defenders to declare and dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.
- The United States has issued clear warnings against the Assad regime’s chemical weapons attacks, and stated that we will not tolerate the continued use of chemical weapons.
- President Trump is continuing a course he set last year following years of failure under the previous administration’s approach of appeasement and cooperation.
- The United States joins with its allies and calls on Syria and Syria’s protectors to:
- Declare all aspects of Syria’s chemical weapons program to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), destroy its remaining chemical weapons stockpile, dismantle its chemical weapons program entirely, and cooperate fully with the OPCW;
- Allow the secure and unfettered access of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission to investigate the chemical weapons attack on Duma; and
- Comply with the de-escalation zones and ceasefires to allow humanitarian aid to reach civilians.
A PATTERN OF HEINOUS CRIMES: The Assad regime’s April 7, 2018 use of chemical weapons is only the latest in Assad’s continued pattern of heinous aggression against his own people.
- The large amount of information about this attack clearly demonstrates Assad’s culpability for the April 7th chemical weapons attack in the Eastern Damascus suburb of Duma, which killed dozens and injured hundreds of civilians.
- A large volume of high-resolution, reliable photos and video from Duma clearly document victims suffering from asphyxiation and foaming at the mouth, with no visible signs of external wounds.
- Reliable intelligence indicates that Syrian military officials coordinated what appears to be the use of chlorine in Duma on April 7.
- Credible medical personnel and organizations have reported symptoms of chlorine and sarin.
- Eyewitness accounts report that an Mi-8 helicopter launched from a Syrian regime airfield was circling Duma at the time of the attack.
- Photos of barrel bombs dropped in Duma closely match those previously used by the Assad regime.
- Doctors and aid organizations on the ground in Duma reported the strong smell of chlorine and described symptoms consistent with exposure to sarin.
- There have been reports of 30 separate incidents of chemical weapons use since the United States’ April 7, 2017 strike in Syria in response to the regime’s use of sarin.
- In November 2017, the Assad regime conducted a sarin attack against its people.
- Assad uses chemical weapons in a manner to maximize suffering, such as against families huddled in underground shelters, as was seen in Duma.
- At the time of Assad’s chemical weapons attack in Duma, the population there was already negotiating for surrender and evacuation.
A CADRE OF WILLING ENABLERS: Russia and Iran have contributed to the discord and chaos in Syria, providing a shelter for Assad to continue his terrible chemical weapons attacks.
- The Trump Administration has made it clear that Russia and Iran share responsibility for the brutal actions of the Assad regime.
- The United States will not be fooled by another Russian disinformation campaign trying to deflect the blame.
- Russian claims that Assad has eliminated his chemical weapons program are clearly untrue.
- Due to its inability – or refusal – to curb Assad’s crimes, Russia must assume responsibility for his behavior.