U.S. President Donald Trump took to Twitter early Sunday morning to voice his dismay of a reported chemical attack in the suburbs of Damascus in the city of Douma in eastern Ghouta in Syria. Trump issued a clear and present warning to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, and President Hassan Rouhani of Iran that the three countries will have a “Big price to pay” for the chemical attack that reportedly killed 40 civilians on Saturday night.
The Syrian American Medical Society and the Civil Defense (White Helmets) issued a joint statement that “more than 500 people, mostly women, and children, were brought to medical centers with difficulty breathing, foaming at the mouth, and burning of the eyes.”
Trump used the occasion to take a rare public hardline stance toward Russian President Putin, as he mentioned his name and directly accredited culpability for the attack to Putin because of his support for, as Trump stated, “Animal Assad.” The timing of the reported chemical attack comes at an auspicious time, as Trump recently voiced his intent to withdraw American military forces from Syria.
In March, 2018, Trump stated, “We are going to have 100% of the caliphate, as they call it, sometimes referred to as land… But we are going to be coming out of there real soon. We are going to get back to our country, where we belong, where we want to be.” The current situation will undoubtedly cause Trump to revisit his withdrawal of forces strategy. With neocon war hawk John Bolton being recently appointed to the role of National Security Advisor, one can infer that all options are on the table.
“Information attacks about the use of chlorine or other poisonous substances by the Syrian government troops are continuing. Another such hoax about the chemical attack that supposedly took place in Douma emerged yesterday,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Sunday. They went on to insinuate that the U.S. military is shielding terrorists as a means to attack the Assad government in Syria directly. The Russian Foreign Ministry stated, “the purpose of these false conjectures, which are without any basis, is to shield the terrorists and the irreconcilable radical opposition, which reject a political settlement while trying to justify possible military strikes from outside.”
General Valery Gerasimov, the head of the Russian General Staff, warned of staged chemical attacks in eastern Ghouta to justify a direct U.S. military attack on the Syrian government’s military forces in March, 2018. General Gerasimov, was quoted in the Al-Monitor as stating the following.
“We have credible information that militants are now preparing to stage the use of chemical weapons on civilians by the Syrian government forces. For this goal, the militants have brought to eastern Ghouta people, including women, children and elders, from other areas. These people have to play victims of this staged chemical attack. The White Helmets with their cameramen are already there for live broadcasts.”
U.N. Secretary General António Guterres issued a statement in the wake of the chemical attack reports stating, “while the United Nations is not in a position to verify these reports, the Secretary-General notes that any use of chemical weapons, if confirmed, is abhorrent, and requires a thorough investigation.”
The British government also condemned the latest chemical attack in Syria.
“These are very concerning reports of a chemical weapons attack with significant number of casualties, which if correct, are further proof of Assad’s brutality against innocent civilians and his backers’ callous disregard for international norms. An urgent investigation is needed and the international community must respond,” the British Foreign Ministry stated.
The statement from the British government comes four days after a retired Russian military general, Evgeny Buzhinsky, told BBC Radio 4 that the currently strained relationships between Great Britain, Russia, and the United States has reached a juncture to where “the world is on the brink of the last war in the history of mankind.”
Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Iran’s Hassan Rouhani, and Russia’s Vladimir Putin held trilateral meetings in the Turkish capital of Ankara this week to discuss the future of Syria. Russia and Iran back the Assad regime, while Turkey has invaded Syria in the Afrin region to wage war against Kurdish fighters. The Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State are backed by the U.S. government.
When a similar chemical attack in Syria was reported in April, 2017, the U.S. military launched a cruise missile attack against a Syrian government military base at the orders of President Trump.
“It’s a defining moment in his presidency,” Senator Lindsey Graham, (R-South Carolina), stated of Trump in the face of the latest chemical attack. “If it becomes a tweet without meaning then he’s hurt himself with North Korea. If he doesn’t follow through and live up to that tweet he’s going to look weak in the eyes of Russia and Iran.”