Secretary of Defense James Mattis noted on Wednesday that President Trump’s threat to Syria, which said that if President Assad attempts another chemical attack in the future the U.S. won’t be merciful at all, was perfectly understood.
The White House issued a statement last Monday saying that the U.S. had detected preparations for a chemical weapons attack and warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that if an attack took place, “he and his military will pay a heavy price.”
According to Mattis, this warning to Syria worked.
“They didn’t do it,” Mattis said. “It appears they took the warning seriously.”
Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., issued similar statement while speaking to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“I can tell you that due to the president’s actions, we did not see an incident. What we did see before was all of the same activity that we had seen prior for the April 4 chemical weapons attack, and so, I think that by the president calling out Assad, I think by us continuing to remind Iran and Russia that while they choose to back Assad, this was something we were not going to put up with, so I would like to think the president saved many innocent men, women and children,” she said.
Haley told the House panel that the warning wasn’t intended just for Syrian president Assad.
“The goal is at this point not just to send Assad a message, but to send Russia and Iran a message,” Haley said. “That if this happens again, we are putting you on notice. My hope is that the president’s warning will certainly get Iran and Russia to take a second look, and I hope that it will caution Assad.”
Pentagon spokesman, Captain Jeff Davis, noted that the warning was issued after the U.S. spotted activity at Shayrat airfield, the base the U.S. attacked after the chemical attack in Syria.
“This involved specific aircraft in a specific hangar, both of which we know to be associated with chemical weapons use,” Davis said.
When asked about how confident he was about Assad getting the message and standing down, Mattis said:
“I’m not paid to have confidence in this sort of thing. I’m paid to be one of the sentinels that watches for it.”
Furthermore, Mattis said that he was certain the chemical weapon program was spread on several places.
“I think that Assad’s chemical program goes far beyond one airfield,” Mattis said.
According to Haley, the U.S. action of attacking the airbase had an impact over the dynamics of international relations.
“We drew a red line: if the U.N. would not act collectively, the United States would act alone. And we did,” she said. “The international community is now very clear about what the U.S. is for and what the U.S. is against.”