In the first test facing his overhauled national security team, President Donald Trump deferred to Defense Secretary James Mattis’ caution against a more forceful attack on Syria in response to its alleged deadly gas attacks on civilians.
Following days of meetings at the White House, Trump and his advisers agreed on one of the most restrained of several military-strike options proposed by the Pentagon, although Trump had indicated that he preferred a more intense attack. The group selected a powerful missile attack aimed at three targets intended to cripple the Syrian regime’s ability to use chemical weapons and deter President Bashar al-Assad from another similar attack.
The selection of the tempered strategy was indicative the sizable influence Mattis still exerts on the reorganized national security team. According to The Wall Street Journal, Mattis presented the White House with three military options for the strike on Syria.
The least aggressive option would have hit a narrow set of targets related to Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities. In the second option, a broader set of Syrian regime assets were targeted, including suspected chemical weapons research facilities and military command centers.
The third and most ambitious proposal, which might have included strikes on Russian air defenses in Syria, was designed to deliver maximum damage to the regime’s military capabilities.
The third proposal was three times the size of the one ultimately carried out by U.S., British and French forces.
Deferring to the advice of Mattis, Trump approved a hybrid plan that included the firing of more than 100 advanced missiles at the three Syrian targets early Saturday. The action was a combination of the first two options offered by Mattis, and included modest missile strikes that the Trump administration said delivered decisive damage to Assad’s chemical weapons capabilities.