Donald Trump's remarks about withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria "emboldened" Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to launch a chemical gas attack against his own people, the Daily Mail is reporting.
In a Sunday press release, the Arizona senator said that Trump's plans to withdraw troops from Syria played a role in Saturday's chemical attack in the city of Douma.
"President Trump last week signaled to the world that the United States would prematurely withdraw from Syria... Bashar Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers have heard him, and emboldened by American inaction, Assad has reportedly launched another chemical attack against innocent men, women and children."
On Saturday, as the Guardian reported at the time, suspected chemical agents were deployed against the Syrian city of Douma, long held by rebels opposed to Assad's regime. The deadly agent was directed at bomb shelters where refugees were believed to be concentrated, enabling the chemical weapons to inflict the most damage.
Horrifying photos and videos of the attack, which will not be posted in this article because they are too graphic, show women and children foaming at the mouth or gasping for breath. At least 42 people are known to have died from the agent.
"The wounded arrived to us with expanded irises and loss of motor control; many were suffocating because of the high concentration of the gas... A lot of cases arrived too late."
As of this writing, the agent has not been identified, but rebels say the injuries and illnesses suffered by the victims were consistent with exposure to an organophosphorus compound.
Assad's regime at first said that there was no attack and that rebels were spreading "false news."
After the attack, Trump blamed Russia, Iran, and Vladimir Putin.
"President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay. Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!"
Despite Trump's condemnation of the attack, McCain believes that Trump may have played a role in it, however obliquely.
Last week, as the Washington Post reported at the time, Trump promised to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria "very soon."
"I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home. It's time."
The Pentagon, however, doesn't necessarily see things that way. Although gains have been made in the fight against ISIS, which at one time controlled large swaths of the region, there is still much to be done, say military commanders. Further, military officials believe that the absence of U.S. troops in the area may allow the once-powerful group to reform and perhaps even launch further attacks against the U.S. or its interests in the region.
To prevent that, say commanders, the U.S. will be required to maintain a "footprint" in the region for an unspecified period of time.
Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, director of the Joint Staff, says that any talk at this time of withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria is just that -- talk.
"The president has actually been very good in not giving us a specific timeline, so that's a tool that we can use to our effect as we move forward."