As Trump Seeks Way Out of Syria, New Attack Pulls Him Back In
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Days after President Trump said he wanted to pull the United States out of Syria, Syrian forces hit a suburb of Damascus with bombs that rescue workers said unleashed toxic gas.
Within hours, images of dead families sprawled in their homes threatened to change Mr. Trump’s calculus on Syria, possibly drawing him deeper into an intractable Middle Eastern war that he hoped to leave.
“Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter on Sunday. He blamed Iran and Russia — even singling out President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia by name — for their support of the Syrian government.
“Big price to pay,” he wrote, without providing details.
His homeland security adviser, Thomas P. Bossert, said the White House national security team had been discussing possible responses and would not rule out a missile strike.
The reported chemical attack on Douma, a suburb of the capital, Damascus, on Saturday seems to have squeezed Mr. Trump between conflicting impulses, and raised the political and military stakes as he charts the United States’ future in Syria.
On one hand, he has emphatically expressed his desire to bring American troops home as soon as possible in line with his “America First” approach. On the other, he has vowed to punish some bad actors, and withdrawing from Syria could open him up to criticism at home and abroad.
“The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria now would have major negative repercussions for the region and beyond,” said Murhaf Jouejati, a Syrian-American professor of international relations at the Emirates Diplomatic Academy in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.