Assad will ‘pay a heavy price’ if he launches another chemical attack, says White House. More ‘after-dinner entertainment’ for Trump’s guests?

The Washington Post reports: The White House issued an ominous warning to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday night, pledging that his regime would pay a “heavy price” if it carried out another chemical attack this year.

In a statement, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that the United States had detected evidence of preparations for a chemical attack, similar to the preparations that occurred before an attack in April.

“The United States has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children,” Spicer said in the statement. “The activities are similar to preparations the regime made before its April 4, 2017 chemical weapons attack.

“As we have previously stated, the United States is in Syria to eliminate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” he continued. “If, however, Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Several military officials were caught off guard by the statement from President Trump’s press secretary, but it was unclear how closely held the intelligence regarding a potential chemical attack was. [Continue reading…]

The Associated Press reports: Several State Department officials typically involved in coordinating such announcements said they were caught completely off guard by the warning, which didn’t appear to have been discussed in advance with other national security agencies. Typically, the State Department, the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies would all be consulted before the White House issued a declaration sure to ricochet across foreign capitals.

A non-governmental source with close ties to the White House said the administration had received intelligence that the Syrians were mixing precursor chemicals for a possible sarin gas attack in either the east or south of the country, where government troops and allied forces have faced recent setbacks.

The U.S. attack on a Syrian air base came after years of heated debate and deliberation in Washington over intervention in the bloody civil war. Chemical weapons have killed hundreds of people since the start of the conflict.

The U.S. is providing air support and arms to Kurdish-led Syrian forces who are fighting to drive the Islamic State group from Raqqa, the extremists’ self-styled capital.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Tuesday that Washington would continue to provide weapons after the Raqqa battle is over. His comments were likely to anger Turkey, which views the Kurdish fighters as an extension of the insurgency raging in its southeast.

On Monday, Trump had dinner with Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and other top officials as he hosted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the White House. [Continue reading…]

The connection could be simply coincidental, but I find it curious that Trump’s first cruise missile strike on Syria and now this latest threat both occurred while he was acting as dinner host to the leaders of the world’s two largest states, China and India.

After the April attack, Variety reported:

Speaking at the Milken Institute Global Conference on Monday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross recalled the scene at Mar-a-Lago on April 6, when the summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping was interrupted by the strike on Syria.

“Just as dessert was being served, the president explained to Mr. Xi he had something he wanted to tell him, which was the launching of 59 missiles into Syria,” Ross said. “It was in lieu of after-dinner entertainment.”

Whether Trump, yesterday evening, murmured to India’s PM Modi something to the effect that he might soon need to give Assad another lesson on the application of American power, I have no idea.

Even so, when it comes to Assad’s use of chemical weapons, there’s little reason to believe that their impact on innocent children is uppermost among Trump’s concerns.

Back in 2013, Trump insisted that the U.S. had nothing to gain by getting involved in Syria and that Obama shouldn’t launch strikes without Congressional approval. He also tweeted, “I would not go into Syria, but if I did it would be by surprise and not blurted all over the media like fools.”

Nowadays it would seem he’s less concerned about maintaining the element of surprise as the White House blurts out its warning.

Given that Trump’s red lines seem to get daubed in such a haphazard way across Syria, his actions are perhaps better interpreted as serving as a form of self-expression and an instrument through which on a world stage, seated along side world leaders, he gets to assert his position as the alpha male.

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