An atrocity by Syria’s Assad demands action by Trump

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A Syrian doctor treats a child following a suspected chemical attack, at a makeshift hospital, in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, northern Idlib province, Syria. The Syrian anti-government activist group Edlib Media Center provided this photo, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting. | Edlib Media Center, via AP

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The photographs are horrific. Convulsing bodies. Lifeless babies. Men and women gasping for air.

Terrifying pictures show the human toll in northern Syria after a deadly chemical attack killed at least 72 people, including 20 children, this week. Thursday, the Turkish Health Ministry said the deadly chemical nerve agent sarin was used in the bomb strike.

What will U.S. President Donald Trump do to prevent such an atrocity from happening yet again?

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Up until Tuesday’s attack, the Trump administration said it was focused on defeating the Islamic State in Syria. Assad was not a priority. After viewing photographs and video of victims, Trump suggested that his focus would shift.

“That attack on children had a big impact on me,” he said Wednesday. “That was a horrible, horrible thing. … My attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.”

No matter how Trump decides to respond — militarily or diplomatically — to Assad’s attack, all engagement must involve Russia, Assad’s enabler.

While Trump had fierce words for the attack, he didn’t go as far as his ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in assigning blame to Russia.

Haley called out Russia for failing to dismantle Assad’s chemical weaponry as Russian President Vladimir Putin promised in 2013.

“Russia cannot escape responsibility for this,” Haley said this week at the U.N.

Tillerson said Thursday there would seem to be “no role” for Assad to continue governing the Syrian people and promised a U.S. response.

Trump and other Republicans have been quick to blame former President Barack Obama for abandoning his “red line” against the use of chemical weapons after Assad’s forces killed several hundred Syrians with a poisonous gas attack in 2013. But back then, Trump urged Obama, via Twitter, to not attack Syria. “There is no upside and tremendous downside,” he wrote.

Assad now is testing Trump, the foreign-policy novice. Putin, too, is testing Trump.

Putin and Trump have a peculiar diplomatic relationship. By and large, the president has spoken admiringly of Putin despite years of estranged ties between the countries. U.S. intelligence concluded Russia interfered in the presidential election won by Trump in November. An investigation is underway by the FBI and in Congress of ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Now Trump must lean on Putin to deal with Assad. A failure to do so weakens America and emboldens a dictator.

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