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Get ready for missiles coming at Syria-Trump tells Russia

After days of hinting at military action in response to a chemical weapons attack on civilians in Syria,American President, Donald Trump made that threat explicit on Wednesday morning in a message aimed at Russia:

Why it matters: In the wake of the attack, Trump is denouncing Russia in a way he never has previously. Russia has said it will retaliate against any strike that risks Russian lives, so the biggest remaining question is whether Trump limits his response to Assad regime targets or hits all three actors he has said share responsibility for the attack — Assad, Iran and Russia.

Trump’s range of options, according to Jennifer Cafarella of the Institute for the Study of War:

  1. Pinprick strikes on the Assad regime, like those he ordered last April after a previous chemical attack. The downside: Those strikes failed to deter Assad.
  2. More damaging strikes targeted at the Assad regime, for example striking “numerous regime airfields and military bases, and warning the Russians in advance,” Cafarella says. The downside: “It will not harm Assad’s backers and therefore is unlikely to weaken his resolve.”
  3. Strikes that would affect all three actors Trump named, hitting targets like joint Russian-Iranian bases or command and control centers. The downside: Russia has said it will retaliate to strikes that endanger Russian troops.

The bottom line: Cafarella says if Trump chooses option number 3, Russia, Iran, and Assad might limit their response to attempting to shoot down the U.S. missiles or aircraft. More dangerous is the possibility of a counter attack, perhaps on a U.S. warship in the Mediterranean. 

Smart take: Anton Troianovski, the Washington Post’s Moscow bureau chief, reports that the “vow” Trump refers to appears to have come last night, from Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon. “Asked later about the warning, Kremlin spox Peskov didn’t repeat it,” he writes.

Worth noting: As a candidate, Trump repeatedly mocked Barack Obama for telegraphing his moves in the Middle East

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