After a brutal chemical weapons attack killed dozens of civilians, including many children, in northern Syria, Republican and Democratic senators on Capitol Hill are blaming the Trump administration for sending signals that encouraged the Syrian regime to “act with impunity.”
“This is what obviously happens when the United States of America doesn’t behave in a way that [shows] we care about human rights and the needless deaths of innocent people,” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) fumed to reporters on Tuesday, the day of the attack. “When the Secretary of State says that the Syrian people will decide their own future, that sends a signal to Bashar al Assad that he can do whatever he wants with impunity. It encourages the brutality and mass murder.”
More senators piled on the administration’s response in a press conference Wednesday, saying Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent suggestion that the U.S. is now open to Bashar al Assad’s continued rule in Syria is emboldening the regime to wage war against its own people.
“If you’re Bashar al Assad and you read that it’s no longer a priority of the United States to have you removed from power, I believe that’s an incentive to act with impunity,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) told reporters Wednesday.
“I don’t believe that was Secretary Tillerson’s intention or that’s what he thought it would happen,” he added. “But if you’re Assad and we’re sending you the signal that we just want to finish this war quickly and maybe we don’t like you and we think you’re a bad guy, but we think you’re better than the alternative, and at this point our priority is just ISIS and we don’t care what happens after that, I think that is, in my view, something that would encourage him to do something like what we’ve just seen.”
Rubio, who is introducing a Senate resolution condemning Assad for the attack and calling for his ouster, also slammed President Trump for blaming his predecessor for the current situation in Syria.
“That presidency is over. We have a new presidency,” said Rubio. “The bottom line is that people who killed those children are Bashar al Assad and Vladimir Putin’s military forces. That’s who should be held responsible, 100 percent responsible.They are the ones gassing their own people. It is my personal view that any effort to take even an iota of blame away from those truly responsible does not further our cause.”
With Tillerson scheduled to travel to Moscow next week to meet with Putin’s government, Rubio urged the Trump administration to take a stronger stand, saying their position should be that “Vladimir Putin is a war criminal assisting another war criminal.”