Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Sunday that signals from President Donald Trump that he was close to withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria have “emboldened” Bashar Assad as he reportedly launched a suspected chemical attack on his civilians.
“President Trump last week signaled to the world that the United States would prematurely withdraw from Syria,” the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said in a statement. “Bashar Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers have heard him, and emboldened by American inaction, Assad has reportedly launched another chemical attack against innocent men, women and children, this time in Douma.”
The Syria attack came on the heels of Trump’s declaration last week at a press conference: “I want to get out; I want to bring our troops back home.” He said that keeping troops in Syria is “very costly for our country, and it helps other countries a hell of a lot more than it helps us.”
The president also told his advisers last month he wanted an early exit from Syria against the wishes of U.S. military officials, Reuters reported. He also ordered $200 million for Syrian recovery efforts frozen.
McCain called on Trump to now take decisive action against the Assad regime.
“It’s not too late to stop Assad’s impunity and begin to rewrite this terrible chapter,” he said.
Dozens of people, including several children, choked to death Saturday after the attack in the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Douma.
At least 49 people and as many as 70 were reported killed. Rescue workers found adults and small children dead in their homes with white foam coming from their mouths and noses, according to The New York Times. Survivors were streaming into a local clinic for treatment Sunday.
Europe and the U.S. condemned Assad and Syrian allies Russia and Iran. Trump called Assad an “animal,” and vowed there would be a “big price to pay.” He also blamed Barack Obama for not taking a harder stance against Assad.
Iranian and Kremlin spokesmen called reports that Assad was responsible for the attack “bogus.”