— -- Last night, President Donald Trump made a surprising decision to conduct U.S. military strikes against the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the first time in the course of Syria's devastating, 6-year civil war.
It was a retaliation, Trump said, for the deadly chemical attack carried out on Tuesday that killed at least 86 people, including dozens of women and children.
"It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons," Trump said from his Mar-a-Lago retreat after the 59 Tomahawk missiles struck a Syrian air base, from which those chemical attacks were launched.
The move was applauded by some lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, but criticized by others for not seeking congressional authorization.
Here are some of the political takeaways from Trump's decision to strike Syria:
Decisive line-in-the-sand moment
It wasn't known Trump had a red line, but Bashar al-Assad clearly crossed it -- and others, as Trump told reporters in the Rose Garden Wednesday. And Thursday night, Trump did what President Obama didn't do after a more egregious gas attack in Syria in 2013: he took military action, and did so quickly -- within 48-hours. Trump opted against congressional approval, though he had tweeted in 2013 that it would be a "big mistake" for then-President Obama if he did not pursue that course. But Congress did get a heads-up in this case -- several top members of the Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees were briefed prior to the strikes by Trump administration officials.
Impact of the images
It's clear that the horrific images out of Syria of children succumbing to toxic gas had a profound impact on President Trump and members of his administration. Since they began airing on TV -- and Nikki Haley put a spotlight on them at the UN -- Trump has mentioned the searing scenes in nearly every comment on Syria. They appeared not to grip him this way four years ago, but perhaps it's partly the power of the office. "That attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me, big impact," the president said Wednesday. "That was a horrible, horrible thing. And I've been watching it and seeing it, and it doesn't get any worse than that."
Harmony with war hawks
The American strikes marked a rare alignment of Trump and some of his sharpest foreign policy critics, including his former rivals in the presidential campaign. Sens. Marco Rubio, John McCain and Lindsey Graham -- longtime skeptics of Trump's will to address human rights abuses by authoritarian regimes -- praised Trump for taking action. "I think one thing is to be a presidential candidate. Another thing is to be the president, and to be confronted with this reality. And I think tonight was a part of that," Rubio said Thursday. Trump even appeared to find support in his actions from Hillary Clinton, who earlier tonight urged the president to "take out [Assad's] airfields and prevent him from being able to use them to bomb innocent people."
A needed win, but what next?
Many will see Trump's response as a win, one which he desperately wanted. Very few people could offer a sound argument against striking Assad in response to killing innocent children. And to some, Trump appears to look strong -- where others say his predecessor seemed weak. The future in uncertain...there are no one-day wars in the Middle East, but for now, some would say Trump has a victory under his belt. However, is the president ready to respond to -- and accept responsibility for -- what may come next? This band of political outsiders is in uncharted territory. It also promises to be a sobering experience; his predecessor called Syria "one of the hardest problems" of his presidency.
Optics on the world stage
The Tomahawk missiles rained down on Syria as Trump was sitting down with China's Xi Jingping in Mar-a-Lago for an elegant dinner of Dover sole and New York strip steak. Trump appeared to show no compunction about launching his first airstrikes as president while outside of Washington, dealing with another foreign crisis (he also handled a North Korea missile launch while at Mar-a-Lago weeks back) and enjoying a fancy meal at the same time. Xi might now have less reason to doubt Trump's military resolve as the leaders discuss the standoff with North Korea and security issues in the South China Sea. Trump's action -- taken without much advance notice or public fanfare -- signals to his allies that he's not afraid to pull the trigger, and that he can operate without extensive international consultations with allies.