The White House said Monday that it was ‘outrageous’ for Sen. John McCain to suggest that President Trump shoulders any of the responsibility for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s latest chemical attack.
McCain, the chairman of the Armed Services committee and a Republican like the president, said in a harsh Sunday statement that Trump had ’emboldened’ Assad with his talk of a drawdown of American forces.
At the White House’s daily press briefing, a reporter suggested that Trump essentially green lit the attack, pointing to McCain’s response.
‘Look we’re still there. And I think that it is outrageous to say that the President of the United States green lit something as atrocious as the actions that have taken place,’ press secretary Sarah Sanders rebuffed.
The Trump spokeswoman said the president had made himself ‘very clear’ to Assad in word and deed.
‘The only individuals who played a part don’t reside in this country,’ she told another journalist. ‘And I think we’ve made very clear who we think is responsible for these attacks. And to try to conflate that, and make this on any part, in blame on this president is absolutely ridiculous.’
It was unclear on Monday if the gas attack had changed Trump’s calculus on the timing of a troop withdraw.
Asked if Trump now believes that it’s OK for the U.S. to be the world’s policeman when the act committed is as atrocious as the one in Syria, Sanders said, ‘The president wants to bring our troops home after we complete the mission to eradicate ISIS in Syria.
‘At the same time, he wants to make sure Assad is deterred from chemical weapons attacks on innocent civilians,’ she added, reading directly from a prepared statement on the topic. ‘Signaling we want to remove our troops in no way degrades our ability to hold parties responsible.’
Trump indicated Monday that he was weighing another military strike against Syria in response to the weekend chemical attack timed to the anniversary of the U.S. assault last year on Assad’s army.
He said in a Cabinet meeting that it was a ‘heinous’ attack that was ‘atrocious’ and ‘barbaric’ in nature.
‘This is about humanity. We’re talking about humanity, and it can’t be allowed to happen,’ he stated.
The U.S. president was to meet with senior military leaders later in the day. He said he would make a decision about Syria within 48 hours and ‘probably by the end of today.’
The United Nations Security Council is also meeting to discuss the matter in New York.
Yesterday, Trump warned the leaders of Syria, Iran and Russia there would be a ‘big price to pay’ for the gas attack that is said to have killed nearly 50 people. He also referred to Assad as an ‘animal.’
At his Cabinet meeting, Trump again said, ‘If it’s Russia, if it’s Syria, if it’s Iran, if it’s all of them together, we’ll figure it out.’
‘Everybody’s gonna pay a price,’ he said, including Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. ‘He will, everybody will.’
Russia has said there’s no evidence that a chemical attack took place in the face of graphic images of civilians, some of whom were children, choking and foaming at the mouth. The country’s Foreign Ministry called the episode a ‘hoax.’
Syria has also denied allegations that it was behind the assault.
‘They’re saying they’re not. But to me there’s not much a doubt,’ Trump told his Cabinet, ‘but the generals will figure it out, probably over the next 24 hours.’
Trump said that ‘nothing’s off the table’ when it comes to retaliation and he expects to make a decision ‘very quickly’ after consulting with his national security team.
‘So we’ll be looking at that barbaric act and studying what’s going on,’ he said.
Sen. Lindsay Graham this morning said that Assad should be classified as a war criminal, and Trump ought to obliterate his air force.
‘The world is watching the president, Iran is watching the president, Russia is watching the president and North Korea’s watching the president,’ the GOP lawmaker who has Trump’s ear said. ‘This president has a chance to do exactly the opposite of Obama: send a strong signal that there’s a new sheriff in town and America’s back.’
Barack Obama infamously warned Assad that that the U.S. would intervene militarily if he crossed a ‘red line’ and unloaded his chemical weapons on civilians. He ultimately backed down from the threat and later cited the unresolved conflict in Syria as his greatest regret as he left office.
Trump now faces a similar decision, having warned Assad last year that the U.S. would not allow him to gas his own people unchecked.
On the anniversary of the United States’ limited air strike for his last confirmed chemical weapons attack, Assad reportedly hit the rebel-held town of Douma in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta late Saturday.
Trump hit out at his predecessor and Assad’s allies in tweets on Sunday.
‘If President Obama had crossed his stated Red Line In the Sand, the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago!’ Trump said. ‘Animal Assad would have been history!’