Russia, U.S. allies, and President Donald Trump's own far-right base reacted yesterday to the news that the United States, on President Trump's orders, launched a military strike on a Syrian government airbase in response to a chemical attack in Idlib province that killed more than 80 civilians. Although many countries around the world praised the unilateral attack on Bashar al-Assad's regime, tensions between Russia––currently the subject of a probe into interference in last year's presidential election––and the United States flared, with the former nation condemning the assault as an "act of aggression" while Trump faced scathing criticism from the far-right voters, who feel Trump betrayed a key non-intervention campaign promise.
Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for the Kremlin, claimed the attack, which targeted the Shayrat Air Base in western Syria and left at least seven people dead, was conducted under "far-fetched pretext."
"[Vladimir] Putin views the U.S. strikes on Syria as aggression against a sovereign state in violation of the norms of international law," Peskov said in a message via Russian state media. "Washington's step will inflict major damage on U.S.-Russia ties."
Peskov reiterated remarks he made earlier this week that the chemical attacks were the result not of Assad’s actions but rebel bombings of chemical plants––a claim derided as false by eye-witnesses and the international community. Earlier today, a host of Russian lawmakers vigorously defended the Kremlin, telling local news outlets that the airstrike calls into doubt the possibility of a united Russia-U.S. front against terrorism.
“We have to think about negative consequences, negative consequences, and all the responsibility if military action occurred will be on shoulders of those who initiated such doubtful and tragic enterprise,” Russian UN envoy Vladimir Safronkov said in a statement. “Look at Iraq, look at Libya.”
Although the indignation of Russian dignitaries took center stage in Moscow, questions remained about to what extent Russian forces or assets were in harm's way when the U.S. launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at the airbase. The Pentagon said in a statement last night that it had notified Russian forces in advance of the strike "using the established deconfliction line.” The statement indicated that “U.S. military planners took precautions to minimize risk to Russian[s] or personnel located at the airfield."
A Syrian opposition group praised the U.S. for the strike, suggesting that American involvement "could really be [an] opportunity" to end Syria's civil war.
"We welcome these strikes," Najib Ghadbian, special representative of the Syrian National Coalition to the United States and the United Nations, told reporters. "They are first good steps but we would like them to be part of a bigger strategy that would put an end to the mass killing, an end to impunity and eventually we hope that they will lead to a kind of a political transition [in Syria]."
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Ross fires a tomahawk land attack missile while conducting naval operations in the Mediterranean Sea, April 7, 2017. (Credit: Source.)
Ghadbian further praised President Trump for exhibiting "U.S. leadership to counterbalance the two powers that were providing support to Assad: Russia and Iran." He accused former President Barack Obama's administration of emboldening Russian and Iranian coalitions "by taking away the military option."
“God bless Trump, but the story does not end here,” said Bayan Al Qalamumni, a former official who now lives as a refugee in Turkey. “The Syrian people have tasted too much bitterness to be happy that one airport was struck. The criminal must be brought to justice before the entire world."
Talal Barazi, the governor of Syria's Homs province, which is home to Shayrat Air Base, was far less enthused about the prospect of American involvement.
"We are not surprised today to see the [terrorists'] supporting parties interfering directly after the failure of terrorists in targeting Syria," he told local media outlets. "We will not be surprised to see the Americans playing a direct role on the ground to support its means everywhere."
Assad's office decried the attack as "reckless, irresponsible behavior."
The Iranian government has denounced the strike, according to The Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA), which quoted Bahram Qasemi, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, who called the move "destructive and dangerous."
"Iran strongly condemns any such unilateral strikes... Such measures will strengthen terrorists in Syria... and will complicate the situation in Syria and the region," Qasemi said.
Britain offered its full support to the United States after the strike.
“The UK government fully supports the US action which we believe was an appropriate response to the barbaric chemical weapons attack launched by the Syrian regime and is intended to deter further attacks,” a government spokesman said.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon revealed that James Mattis, the U.S. Defense Secretary, consulted with Britain for its view on whether Assad was responsible for the chemical attack before launching the strike.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon. (Credit: Source.)
"The American defence secretary Jim Mattis consulted me early yesterday evening about our assessment of the regime’s culpability for the chemical weapons attack and we reviewed the need to understand and to deal with any likely Russian reactions to the attack,” Fallon told the BBC. “He was then reviewing the different options to put before the president; he then called me later on to advise us of the president’s decision and to give us notice of the attack and our prime minister was kept informed throughout.”
American officials spoke with their French counterparts ahead of launching the strikes, France's Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said earlier today.
"I was told by [U.S. Secretary of State] Rex Tillerson during the night," Ayrault told reporters during a state visit to Mauritanian capital Nouakchott. "Use of chemical weapons is appalling and should be punished because it is a war crime," he said, before condemning Russia and Iran for backing Assad and assuring his listeners that France would not seek a conflict with either nation.
Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his support for the United States mere hours after the military strike, telling local media that President Trump "sent a strong and clear message today that the use and spread of chemical weapons will not be tolerated."
Netanyahu added that Israel "supports" Trump's actions and that it "hopes that his message of resolve in the face of the Assad regime's horrific actions will resonate not only in Damascus, but in Tehran, Pyongyang and elsewhere."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Credit: Source.)
President Reuven Rivlin backed Netanyahu's statements, calling the strike a "fitting and appropriate response" to war crimes perpetrated by Assad's regime. "In acting as it has, the United States serves as an example to the entire free world, which must support any step required to bring the atrocities in Syria to an end," Rivlin said.
In a statement earlier this morning, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said the attack "delivered an important and necessary message from the entire free world" that the United States will not "tolerate" Assad's abuses against "innocent civilians."
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull voiced his support for the strike but assured his fellow Australians that the nation would not be drawn into a fresh conflict.
“It is a proportionate and calibrated response to stop that airfield being used to deliver chemical weapons again, but we are not at war with the Assad regime and the US has made that clear also,” he said. “As a coalition partner we were advised shortly before the attack and we support the US in that action. The use of those weapons under any circumstances is illegal and abhorrent and a blatant contravention of the basic principles of humanity."
Ibrahim Kahn, a spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, denounced the chemical attack on civilians in Idlib, adding that the strike was an appropriate response to the "Assad regime's war crimes."
"The destruction of Sharyat [sic] airbase marks an important step to ensure that chemical and conventional attacks against the civilian population do not go unpunished," Kalın said in a statement. He further advocated for the creation of no-fly zones and safe zones to mitigate the possibility of future massacres.
Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş echoed Kahn's calls for safe zones, and expressed hope for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. "The barbarism of the Assad regime must be stopped as soon as possible," he said before urging the international community to take action.
The nation's Foreign Ministry released a statement of its own, saying that it views the strike "very positively," pledging Turkey's unequivocal support.
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told reporters he has requested a meeting with Sergei Lavrov, his Russian counterpart, and stressed the importance of establishing a de facto government away from Assad's influence in Syria.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said earlier today that Japan “supports the resolve” of the U.S. to condemn the use of chemical weapons.
“We understand that the action taken by the United States was a measure to prevent the situation from worsening further,” Abe told reporters after meeting with the National Security Council. He added that his country “highly appreciates” the Trump administration’s efforts to work with its allies, particularly when “the threat from weapons of mass destruction is also growing more serious in East Asia.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. (Credit: Source.)
“Japan will coordinate with the United States and the rest of the international community and properly play the role it should play for the peace and stability of the world,” he concluded.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga insisted that the U.S. strike would not have an adverse effect on peace treaty negotiations between Japan and Russia.
We don’t think it will have any direct influence on the bilateral issue of the peace treaty negotiations,” Suga said during a press conference.
A statement carried by state news agency SPA quoted "a responsible source at the foreign ministry" who praised President's "courageous decision."
The unnamed official "expresses" the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's full support for the American military operations on military targets in Syria, which came as a response to the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians," the statement continued.
TROUBLE ON THE HOME FRONT
Some of the president's most passionate supporters––particularly far-right writers and bloggers––have condemned his action, noting that he had deliberately broken a campaign pledge to maintain a non-interventionist stance on the Syrian conflict. (In the past, Trump advocated for the United States to "do nothing" in Syria.)
Leaders within the white nationalist movement were particularly scathing in their criticisms of the president. Paul Joseph Watson, an editor at conspiracy theorist website Infowars, announced he had "officially" fallen out of love with the administration.
Conservative commentator Laura Ingraham spoke for the other side of the schism, noting that the strike had brought together several of the president's most frequent critics.
Readers of Breitbart––the far-right website which chief White House presidential strategist Stephen Bannon once described as "the platform for the alt-right"––commonly voiced feelings of betrayal following the strike. Matt Stoller, a New America fellow, noted many furious responses from the site's members.
Trump's decision marked a dramatic shift in policy––for many of his most ardent supporters, who endorsed him on the basis of his "anti-establishment" credentials, the strike appears to break from the exact ideology they blamed for failed American interventionism.
“Remind Trump who supported him,” said far-right blogger Mike Cernovich in a live video warning his followers that the United States would attack Syria. “We got to stop him.”