U.S., British and French airstrikes on Syrian chemical weapons facilities were returned by only heated Russian rhetoric on Saturday, easing fears of an immediately escalating conflict.
The strikes were generally supported by allies and Ohio lawmakers.
The more than 100 cruise missiles fired at targets in Syria early Saturday meant to punish President Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons against his own people a week earlier also angered Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Assad regime ally. Russia took the protest to the U.N. Security Council later in the day.
Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said President Donald Trump told her if the Syrian regime uses poisonous gas again, “the United States is locked and loaded” to strike again.
Russia demanded a vote on a U.N. resolution that would condemn “the aggression” against Syria by the United States and its allies. The vote was rejected.
Trump ordered the strikes Friday night.
“A perfectly executed strike last night,” he wrote on Twitter. “Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military. Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!”
Still, even as Trump lauded “our great Military,” the reality was that, for the second time in just over a year, he had sent missiles crashing into Syrian military targets, adding U.S. firepower to one of the most complex and multisided conflicts in a generation.
The relative calm following the attack that hit three chemical weapons facilities may be short-lived, said Glen Duerr, associate professor of international studies at Cedarville University.
“What we’ll have to wait and see, though, is that Russia tends to retaliate for things in different ways usually about a month or two later,” Duerr said. “So I don’t think this is over yet. We’ll have to watch very closely.”
The early-morning missile strike came a week after a suspected chemical attack in Douma, Syria killed 70 people. Residents reported hearing objects fall from the sky, followed by a chlorine-like smell. About 500 people reported burning eyes and breathing problems and other symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals.
Dr. Ibrahim Ahmad, a physician from Syria who lives in Centerville, doesn’t dispute that people fell victim to something at Douma.
Ahmad, who has family in Syria, said he wouldn’t make a medical diagnosis without first knowing test results, so he wonders why the U.S. and its allies went ahead and bombed with chemical inspectors within 24 hours of possibly finding the truth at Douma.
“We are really saddened by those attacks. We were hopeful that our government would take a step back a little bit and wait for the inspectors,” he said. “It didn’t do any good for us, or for the people in Syria. We should have waited and let the inspectors determine if it was a real chemical attack.”
Because the U.S. didn’t strike at Russian targets, the U.S. is less likely to become more entangled in a larger Middle East conflict right now, but Russia is likely to go on the offensive with a disinformation campaign or retaliate elsewhere, said Jaro Bilocerkowycz, a University of Dayton associate professor of political science.
“Russia might seek to certainly push forth disinformation to try to suggest more civilian casualties,” he said. “They will try to politically spin it. And they could potentially retaliate elsewhere such as Ukraine and escalate the conflict there.”
Chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said Saturday that “there has been a 2,000 percent increase in Russian trolls in the past 24 hours.”
Donna Schlagheck, the retired chair of Wright State University’s political science department, said Saturday’s bombing was “déjà vu.” Both Trump and President Barack Obama have tried limited airstrikes with little success to end Assad’s use of chemical weapons.
“So to the extent that we had to voice some stern disapproval, certainly that has been accomplished,” she said. “Will it hold Bashar al-Assad accountable? He’s got massive human rights violations. This man is a war criminal of 21st-century proportions and it does nothing to hold him accountable. Nothing.”
Schlagheck said while the United States wouldn’t be entangled in Syria if Russia hadn’t intervened to back Assad in the country’s civil war, President Trump needs a plan that includes diplomacy and U.N. involvement.
“There is no strategy. He had to make a statement and use some force. But there’s certainly no plan that would justify an enlarged role,” she said. “One air strike certainly means the president can tell the public I took some action. I used the world’s greatest military to basically send the Russians a sign that we really disapprove.”
Ohio politicians reacted Saturday to the missile attack with general approval — Republicans enthusiastically so.
Republicans Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and Rep. Mike Turner backed Trump’s decision to attack chemical weapons facilities in Syria, with Portman tweeting the cruise missile attacks were needed to “hold Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accountable for his barbarous chemical weapons attack against his own people.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, offered a more restrained response, saying it was “important that our allies in Britain and France were part of this process.”
Brown said the Allied missile strikes “appear to be a targeted and proportional response to the Assad regime’s gruesome attacks on civilians.”
But Brown warned “we’ve learned from the past that a military strike without a diplomatic plan will leave us right back here again a year from now.”
Kasich tweeted that “Americans should welcome President Trump’s joint action with the United Kingdom and France in punishing the Syrian regime in order to uphold the global prohibition on chemical weapons use.”
Turner, R-Dayton, said “Assad’s barbaric regime continues to violate international rule of law. The attack with our allies last night was a necessary action to deter horrific chemical weapons attacks by the Syrian government against its own people.”
Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Cincinnati, said “the use of chemical weapons violates every norm of international diplomacy, and indeed, human decency,” adding the missile strikes will demonstrate the United States and its allies “will not tolerate these atrocities and the killing of innocents.”
In a Facebook post, Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Troy, said while he supported the attacks, he complained, “How did we have time to do all of that yet fail to even brief Congress - let alone secure Constitutional authorization?”
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dennis Kucinich, a former Democratic congressman from Cleveland, asserted Trump acted without “congressional authorization in ordering a military attack against Syria tonight. This is a clear violation of the United States Constitution … which makes it clear that only Congress has the power to declare war.”
Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles, said the attacks send “another message that our nation and our allies will not stand by while international law is broken by the use of chemical weapons against innocent men, women, and children.”
Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Upper Arlington, who served in Iraq as a member of the Ohio National Guard, said “America acted with our allies and demonstrated our commitment to preventing further violence against innocent men, women, and children. As a former chemical officer in the U.S. Army, I recognize the true horror of these weapons.”
The Associated Press and the New York Times contributed to this report.