President Donald Trump is taunting Russia as he makes clear that he has decided to strike the forces of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in retaliation for an alleged chemical weapons attack in the town of Douma. At the same time, and somewhat paradoxically, Trump is also offering cooperation to Russia on a range of issues including arms control. Meanwhile, Moscow is reiterating once more that its forces will retaliate forcefully if Russian citizens are harmed as a result of an American attack.
“Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria,” Trump tweeted on April 11. “Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’ You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”
Defense Secretary James Mattis said that the investigation as to who is responsible for the Douma chemical attack remains open, but added that the military will have options ready for the president when the time comes. “We’re still assessing the intelligence ourselves, and our allies. We’re still working on this,” Mattis said. “We stand ready to provide military options if they’re appropriate, as the President determines.”
Trump, for his part, seems to have made his determination. However, the fact that Mattis seemed to be unaware of the president’s tweets suggests that an attack may not be imminent in the next twelve hours. An attack is most likely coming in the next several days.
Trump did not add any other details to the tweet, but presumably the president is referring to advanced cruise missiles such as the U.S. Navy’s Tomahawk Block IV long-range cruise missile and the AGM-158B Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range (JASSM-ER). Indeed, there are U.S. Navy warships, including the Arleigh Burke–class USS Donald Cook (DDG-75), USS Laboon (DDG-58) and the Ohio-class guided missile submarine USS Georgia (SSGN-729) that can fire long-range cruise missiles. Georgia, for example, is armed with some 155 Tomahawks. It is likely that any strike on Syria will be launched first from the Georgia.
The French and the British may join in the fray. The British apparently have more or less made a decision to attack Syria—and according sources who spoke to the BBC—even without a vote to authorize the strike in Parliament. France, meanwhile, is ready to make a decision to strike Syria in the coming days.
French president Emmanuel Macron said that his country would make the decision to strike Syria in coordination with Britain and the United States in days. “The third element is the red lines defined by France. These red lines, which are shared by other powers, have nothing to do with the discussions taking place at the U.N. Security Council,” Macron said alongside Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to Reuters. “In this context, we will continue exchanges of technical and strategic information with our partners in particular Britain and America, and in the coming days we will announce our decision.”