If there is such a thing as good and bad timing for a war crime, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad could have hardly chosen a worse time to unleash yet another chemical weapons launch on one of his cities. Only a day before John Bolton was scheduled to take over for H.R. McMaster as President Trump national security adviser, reports came in that Assad had gassed the city of Douma, a rebel stronghold near Damascus. The attack left at least forty people dead and many others injured. And with Bolton by Trump’s side as of Monday morning, Assad may find that last year’s retaliatory attack by the U.S. was a playful jab compared to what’s coming down the pike.
Some of the warnings about Bolton’s war-hawkish attitude have been overblown, but there’s no doubt that he is from the militaristic wing of the Republican Party. He stands behind the Iraq War to this day, and he has been known to be of the opinion that we should scrap the nuclear deal with Iran and use, um, alternative methods to keep them from developing the bomb. Those methods, naturally, may include airstrikes and more. So Bolton, while he is not the “blow up the world” lunatic that the left is trying to make him out to be, is definitely the kind of Republican who thinks the U.S. should not hesitate to assert military dominance when the situation calls for it.
That could be bad news for Bashar al-Assad.
In a tweet on Sunday, President Trump not only condemned the chemical attack but took a rare public shot at a leader he has gone out of his way to be friendly with.
“Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria,” Trump wrote. “Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad.”
Trump continued: “Big price to pay. Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!”
Both Russia and Syria have denied any role in the attack.
In a later tweet, Trump saved some invective for his predecessor, whose reluctance to punish Assad for his war crimes enabled the dictator to ultimately secure his victory over the rebels.
“If President Obama had crossed his stated Red Line in the Sand,” Trump wrote, “the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago! Animal Assad would have been history!”