The Note: Trump at War

US launched a military strike on Syria last night.

ByABC News
April 7, 2017, 8:14 AM


Day No. 78

THE BIG STORY: Enter Trump at war, after a massive turnabout on policy in the first 80 days of the new administration – and inside the 80 hours since a deadly chemical attack in Syria. President Trump got the world’s attention with his decision to launch swift airstrikes against a Syrian air base. The decision seemed at once striking in its speed, and almost mainstream in its scope; one could imagine a President Marco Rubio or a President Hillary Clinton doing almost exactly the same. This, though, was the easy part. What isn’t clear is how this fits with a larger strategy, regarding Syria, Russia, ISIS and beyond. Does this signal the start of a new Trump doctrine? What of regime change in Syria? Will the Trump administration now change its policies on refugees? How does Russia react, and China – awkward front-row observers to Thursday night’s attack? Critically, what does it really mean when Trump said he would “call on all civilized nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria”? If pictures from a single chemical attack jolted the president policy so completely, the next steps should be interesting indeed.

THE SLEEPER STORY: This was one of the loudest moments of the Trump presidency. But viewed another way, it may be one of the quietest. President Trump’s highest-profile foreign-policy critics inside his own party – John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio – have seldom offered stronger support for Trump. Democrats and some Republicans are calling for congressional authorization of the military action, but fewer are questioning the airstrikes themselves. European allies that have openly wondered about US leadership in the age of Trump are on board as well. Among those who are upset? The Russians and Iranians. Trump finds himself on a patch of moral high ground, and he has demonstrated a clear break from Obama administration policy with his decisive action. This president has had few moments that offer this much opportunity, yet also this much peril.

THE SHINY STORY: Twitter is a gold mine, again, for Trump vs.Trump storylines. To settle any arguments: Donald Trump – as private citizen, and then as presidential candidate – was steadfastly against military intervention in Syria when a roughly similar set of circumstances presented themselves during the Obama years. He was unequivocally behind the notion that the president needed congressional authorization for a military strike. And guess what? None of that matters. Trump has shown time and again not only that he’s capable of change – “I am flexible. I am proud of that flexibility” – but that his decision-making is not impacted by what he has previously stated his position to be. As a growing number of erstwhile Trump allies have come to see for themselves, don’t focus on what the president says but on what he does. Twitter is a mind-boggling record of past Trump statements and positions. But it matters almost not at all in predicting Trump actions.

TLDR: Moved by images of Syrian children left dead after a chemical weapons attack, President Trump ordered the launch of an airstrike against Syria last night. But what isn’t clear going forward is if there’s a larger strategy on Syria.

PHOTO OF THE DAY: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared in high spirits yesterday as there appeared to be an end in sight to the long, bitter partisan battle in the Senate over the Supreme Court. Here he is giving a thumbs-up leaving the Senate floor shortly after invoking the ‘nuclear option,’ changing years of Senate precedent, but effectively clearing the path for Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo)

PHOTO: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell signals a thumbs-up as he leaves the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 6, 2017.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell signals a thumbs-up as he leaves the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 6, 2017.


--US LAUNCHES MILITARY STRIKE ON SYRIA AIRBASE: Responding to a Syrian chemical weapons attack on Tuesday that left scores dead, the United States initiated a military strike Thursday on an airbase in Syria, multiple U.S. officials have confirmed, launching 59 missiles at an air base in the country. The Pentagon said that the airstrike, which targeted Shayrat Air Base in Homs Province -- where a chemical attack was initiated earlier in the week -- struck multiple targets with tomahawk missiles launched between 8:40 and 8:50 p.m. ET, from destroyers USS Porter and USS Ross in the Mediterranean Sea. President Donald Trump said the strike was in the "vital national security interest" of the U.S, report ABC's LUIS MARTINEZ, DAVID CAPLAN and ADAM KELSEY.

--TILLERSON: RUSSIA 'COMPLICIT' OR 'INCOMPETENT' WITH SYRIA: Speaking to reporters in West Palm Beach, Florida after President Donald Trump's statement concerning U.S. missile strikes against Syria, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Thursday night had harsh words for Russia, which he blamed for failing to rein in its Syrian ally Bashar al-Assad. "Either Russia has been complicit or Russia has been simply incompetent," Tillerson said in an off-camera briefing with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, referring to Moscow's apparent inability to prevent the Syrian government from using chemical weapons earlier this week despite a 2013 agreement to remove them from the country. ABC’s JONATHAN KARL and ALEXANDER MALLIN has more:

--STRIKE ON SYRIA GETS MIXED REACTION FROM LAWMAKERS: Reaction from both sides of the aisle was swift following news that the United States had launched a military strike on an airbase in Syria. In a statement, Sens. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, praised President Donald Trump for taking action. "Unlike the previous administration, President Trump confronted a pivotal moment in Syria and took action. For that, he deserves the support of the American people," they said in part. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, tweeted, "While we all condemn the atrocities in Syria, the United States was not attacked." He continued: "The President needs Congressional authorization for military action as required by the Constitution." ABC's TARA FOWLER has more:

--HAPPENING TODAY - SENATE TO VOTE ON SUPREME COURT NOMINEE NEIL GORSUCH: The long, contentious battle to fill the vacancy on the nation's highest court, which has lasted over a year in Congress could end today when the Senate holds a vote on whether to confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. With the exception of three, Democratic senators seemed poised to vote against Gorsuch’s confirmation.

THIS WEEK ON ‘THIS WEEK’: After House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., stepped away from leading the committee’s Russia investigation, George Stephanopoulos goes one-on-one with House Intelligence Committee ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., exclusively on “This Week” Sunday.


WHAT TRUMP HAS SAID ABOUT SYRIA AND ASSAD. In the wake of chemical attacks in Syria that killed at least 86, including dozens of women and children, President Trump issued a swift condemnation, saying that the offensive "crossed a lot of lines for me." "When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, little babies, with a chemical gas that is so lethal — people were shocked to hear what gas it was — that crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line, many, many lines," Trump said during a press conference Wednesday with Jordan's King Abdullah II. ABC's MEGHAN KENEALLY has more:

HILLARY CLINTON CALLS FOR STRIKES AGAINST SYRIAN AIRFIELDS. Before the U.S. took action Thursday night, former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton spoke out about how she would respond to Tuesday's chemical attack in Syria, promoting U.S. action to prevent further attacks with civilian casualties, notes ABC's ADAM KELSEY. Speaking at the Women in the World summit in New York City, Clinton said that the U.S. "should have been more willing to confront [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad]," before Russia got involved in the country's civil war.

SENATE APPROVES 'NUCLEAR OPTION,' CLEARS PATH FOR NEIL GORSUCH SUPREME COURT NOMINATION VOTE. The Senate altered the long-standing practice for confirming Supreme Court justices Thursday after Democrats blocked the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch. In order to bypass Democrats’ opposition, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., first invoked the so-called nuclear option, which triggered a vote to change Senate precedent by lowering the 60-vote threshold to a simple majority of 51 votes for Supreme Court cloture votes, explains ABC's ALI ROGIN.

REP. DEVIN NUNES STEPS AWAY FROM RUSSIA INVESTIGATION AMID ETHICS COMPLAINTS. After a number of ethics complaints, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-California, announced Thursday that he will step aside from leading the House Intelligence Committee's probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. "Several left-wing activist groups have filed accusations against me with the Office of Congressional Ethics. The charges are entirely false and politically motivated," said Nunes. ABC's MEGHAN KENEALLY, VERONICA STRACQUALURSI and BENJAMIN SIEGEL have more:

BANNON CALLS REPORTS OF THREAT TO QUIT 'ABSURD,' AS INSIDERS SAY OTHERWISE. President Donald Trump's chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon flatly denied reports that he threatened to resign after being removed from the Principals Committee of the National Security Council. "Absurd," Bannon told ABC News when asked about the reports. The claim comes as multiple senior White House sources say Bannon did, in fact, threaten to quit his White House post, note ABC's JONATHAN KARL, KATHERINE FAULDERS and JOHN SANTUCCI.

IVANKA TRUMP MET WITH PLANNED PARENTHOOD PRESIDENT SHORTLY AFTER INAUGURATION. Ivanka Trump met with Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards soon after the inauguration for what the group characterizes as a "cordial and informative meeting," reports ABC's JORDYN PHELPS. "The purpose of the meeting, from Planned Parenthood’s perspective, was to make sure that Ivanka Trump fully understood the important role Planned Parenthood plays in providing health care to millions of people and why it would be a disastrous idea to block people from accessing care at Planned Parenthood," Planned Parenthood said in a statement.


@joshrogin: Former senior U.S. intelligence official: This is almost exactly the strike plan Obama readied in 2013.

@rickklein: "The president was authorized to commit this strike... not only does he have the right, he has an obligation to act," Rubio says @GMA

@IngrahamAngle: Missiles flying. Rubio's happy. McCain ecstatic. Hillary's on board. A complete policy change in 48 hrs.

@brianefallon: Two things Trump must answer: 1. Is he still opposed to Syrian refugees 2. Tell us how missile strike fits into larger strategy in Syria.

@RichardGrenell: Obama's redline has been enforced. By @realDonaldTrump.

@justinamash: Airstrikes are an act of war. Atrocities in Syria cannot justify departure from Constitution, which vests in Congress power to commence war.

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