A News Analysis
With a relatively small volley of cruise missiles, President Trump on Thursday night sent a clear message meant to resonate far beyond Syria to enemies like Iran and North Korea - after years of military equivocation the U.S. won’t hesitate any longer to act quickly if provoked.
Navy ships, the USS Porter and the USS Cole, launched between 50 and 60 precision Tomahawk cruise missile that narrowly targeted runways, fuel depots and munitions depots at a single air base in Shyrat, Syria just days after a chemical attack that killed dozens of civilians and horrified the world. US intelligence has concluded the chemical attack Tuesday was carried out by a Syrian government warplane.
WATCH | Trump speaks from his Mar-a-Lago residence.
By military standards, it was a relatively small and risk-free exercise that put no pilots in danger. But after years of world leaders leveling only words at Bashir Assad as the Syrian leader deployed chemical weapons, Trump made clear he will decide and act quickly.
The military planned and turned around the attack in just about two days, less time than it has taken the UN to decide even how to condemn the tragedy earlier this week.
Trump’s swift response also rallied support from two Republican warhawks who have often been critical or cool to the new president.
Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham said Trump’s response showed America “will no longer stand idly by as Assad, aided and abetted by Putin’s Russia, slaughters innocent Syrians with chemical weapons and barrel bombs."
Before he was elected president, Trump once suggested there would be no value in President Obama launching an attack on Syria and that he could possibly work with a regime like Assad’s.
But over the last 48 hours, the 45th president made clear how much this week’s chemical attack changed his perception of Assad as his top diplomat indicated that regime change could be the U.S. only endgame now.
WATCH | What's a Tomahawk missile?
In Florida where he was meeting with China’s leader, Trump declared Thursday night that the missile strike was taken to advance a "vital national security interest" and he urged allies to join his administration in a concerted effort to "end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria."
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he was taking steps to form a coalition to pressure Assad from power. And the Syrian leader’s usual ally, Russia, also indicated its support for Assad’s regime was not limitless.
While the immediate focus of the strike was to punish Assad, the longer term impact from Trump's decision is certain to send a message to the capitals of aggressor states like Tehran and Pyongyang that the new president may be shorter on eloquent words than his predecessor but quicker to take military action.