After Syrian Chemical Attack, Republicans Get Back To Their Hawkish Roots

REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan

Alex Pfeiffer White House Correspondent
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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump won the White House in part by railing against the Iraq War. After a chemical attack in Syria, however, Republican senators are ready to remove and replace another Middle Eastern leader.

The chemical attack left at least 86 dead, according to estimates, and the U.S. government is blaming Syria for the attack. Trump said Wednesday that the incident “changed very much” his “attitude toward Syria and Assad.”

CNN then reported Thursday that Trump has told members of Congress that he is considering a military response against Syria, and that he is planning to meet with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to discuss military options.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also told reporters Thursday that “steps are underway” to create an international coalition to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

This is a departure from Trump’s previous rhetoric against Syria. As recently as October, Trump was cautioning against arming rebels, saying they would end up being worse than the current regime. The Trump administration is not alone in wanting to take action against Syria, and Republican hawks in the Senate now have an opportunity.

Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham put out a joint statement Thursday that called for the U.S. to lead “an international coalition to ground [Assad’s] air force.”

Republican Sen. Rand Paul, known for cautioning against foreign intervention, told The Daily Caller that “any time you want to go to war you should vote on it like the Constitution says.”

McCain, however, told reporters that he doesn’t think Trump needs congressional approval “in this case in response to what just happened.”

McCain told TheDC that there needs to be a “whole new government,” and said that Assad and other “people responsible for war crimes” will either be tried before a tribunal, dead or “gone to Russia.”

The Arizona Republican said that the U.S. then has “to set up a government,” and that the “interim government would probably be elements of the Free Syrian Army.”

The Free Syrian Army has been supported by the U.S. and has clashed against ISIS and al-Qaida. The Free Syrian Army has also reportedly enforced Sharia law, and factions of the group have aligned with ISIS.

Some of McCain’s colleagues share his view that the U.S. should respond militarily and set up a new government in Syria. Republican Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford did disagree with the notion that the Free Syrian Army should control the interim government.

Lankford told Fox News host Tucker Carlson that the Obama administration’s Syria policy was a mistake.

“We’re waiting for someone organically to grow up and suddenly be the big dog in the area that everyone would respect,” he said. “That’s not going to happen.”

“There is no unified rebel force fighting against Assad,” the Oklahoma senator said. “The key thing that I hear from leaders in the area is we have got to have the United States to help engage to select the next leader and the international community come behind them and basically find a horse and be able to bet on that horse.”

Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe told TheDC that he would support Lankford’s proposal to chose a leader to Syria.

The U.S. has previously bet on horses in Iraq and Vietnam.