This story and headline were updated to reflect the launching of new attacks on Syria on Thursday night.
President Donald Trump has carried out a new military intervention in Syria following this week’s horrific chemical attack—believed to have been carried out by embattled president Bashar al-Assad —which left scores of civilians dead.
On Wednesday, Trump decried the chemical attack on “innocent people including women, small children, and even beautiful little babies,” describing it as “an affront to humanity” and insisting that “these heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated.”
The attack “crosses many, many lines,” Trump said.
The harsh language came just days after an apparent attempt by the White House to downplay the administration’s opposition to Assad’s continued grip on power.
By Thursday afternoon, reports indicated that President Trump was in the early stages of planning direct military action against Syria in response to the chemical attack. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson confirmed that “steps are underway” to remove the Assad regime from office, while Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is reportedly headed to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida to brief the president on the situation.
While the scope and nature of any future involvement in Syria over the long haul remains to be seen, it’s clear that any widespread military action taken by the U.S. could easily entangle the country deeper into another Middle Eastern quagmire.
More pointedly, a U.S. military intervention—or an intensified intervention, since America has been bombing Syria for years and has had at least several hundred troops in the country for some time—would almost certainly cause an increase in the number of refugees attempting to flee the region. (It would also lead to a rise in the number of civilian casualties, given the already-dramatic spike in civilian deaths caused by the U.S. since Trump took office.)
Yet, in a typically cruel bit of irony, Trump has been steadfast in his refusal to allow anyone fleeing the Syrian conflict into the United States. Trump has long stated that Syrian refugees in particular pose a terrorist threat to the U.S. (a claim Assad agreed with), despite all evidence showing that assertion to be entirely false.
The president’s first Muslim travel ban explicitly barred any and all Syrian refugees from entering the country, while his second attempt only slightly modified that rule—suspending all refugee resettlement into the U.S. for three months, and dramatically reducing the overall number of refugees allowed in.
So it’s not outlandish to imagine a situation in the very near future in which more and more Syrians attempt to flee American bombs, only to be barred from American shores. It’s the kind of illogical callousness that perfectly symbolizes the way our current system works.