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Trump Launches Military Strike Against Syria; Trump Launches Military Strike Against Syria; White House Sending Message to North Korea as Well as Syria; How U.S. Missile Strike Impacts Markets; Trump Orders Air Strikes Ahead of Meeting Chinese President; Impact of U.S. Missile Strikes on Politics in the U.S. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired April 7, 2017 - 02:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[02:00:30] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, and welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm John Vause, in Los Angeles, where it's just gone 11:00 Thursday night here on the west coast.

Our breaking news, the U.S. has launched a barrage of cruise missiles at an air base in Syria.

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VAUSE: U.S. warships in the Mediterranean Sea fired 59 Tomahawk missiles. President Trump says the strike is in response to Syria's chemical attack in Idlib on Tuesday, which killed at least 86 people.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched. It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to present and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.

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VAUSE: The Pentagon says the missile strike targeted aircraft defense systems and ammunition at al Sharat (ph) Air Base in Homs.

For more, let's bring in Ryan Browne at the Pentagon; also Muhammad Lila standing by in Istanbul.

Ryan, first to you.

What's the latest from the Pentagon and what's the damage assessment from the air strike?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: They don't have a formal damage assessment in yet, so we're going to wait to hear that. We are hearing what was targeted. Aircraft were targeted, specifically aircraft tied to the regime, as well as hangars, the taxiway, things that make the airfield operational. So what they wanted to do was make it no longer operational with these strikes. 59 Tomahawk missiles coming down onto this air base.

They also did it at a time of day they believed they would minimize the potential for casualties. Particularly, one thing they were looking at the only reason presence of Russians. The Pentagon said there were Russian personnel at that airfield but they intentionally avoiding striking any of the areas the Russians are believed to be. And they communicated via a military channel to the Russians to inform them of the strikes the day of the strike, the day of this delivery of missiles.

VAUSE: Muhammad, to you in Syria.

They'll be waking to the news of this missile strike. What has been the reaction from the Assad regime?

MUHAMMAD LILA, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRSEPONDENT: Syrian state media reporting running a banner across the media reporting the air strikes. In fact, showing footage of the Tomahawk missiles being launched from U.S. warships with a banner on the bottom calling this an act of aggression. That's important because they're stopping short, so far, of calling this an act of war, simply downgrading it and calling it an act of aggression.

John, anytime you talk about reaction in Syria, you've also got to talk about the ripple effect that take place across the Middle East. As much as the conflict has been isolated in Syria, it has become very much a regional conflict. Saudi Arabia this morning put out a statement saying it welcomes and fully supports the operation against military targets in Syria. There's a message you'll see repeated from spokespeople in Turkey and Qatar. All three of those countries have been backers of the rebel and various militant groups on the ground in Syria. So today is likely the news they've been waiting for and hoping for, for years now.

VAUSE: What about from rebel groups? How are they seeing this air strike, Muhammad?

LILA: CNN did speak with a rebel activist who was in Idlib. He was one of the people documenting some of the aftermath of the chemical air strike a few days ago. He mentioned they are surprised and they are happy. But there's also a deep sense of concern right now because now that this Tomahawk strike has taken place, the question is how will Bashar al Assad respond? Will he come forcefully and start targeting in a more widespread way the rebel groups that are fighting against his regime? While the rebel grounds are happy at what's going on, they're also bracing themselves for possible retaliation from the Assad government.

VAUSE: OK, Muhammad Lila and Ryan Browne from the Pentagon, thanks to you both.

Let's bring in retired U.S. Army Major General Mark MacCauley; and CNN's chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, in London.

General MacCauley, we'll start with you.

We're told the taxiway was hit. It wasn't the runway. Does this appear to be a more limited strike out of all the options the president was given from the Pentagon.

[02:05:13] MAJ. GEN. MARK MACCAULEY, RETIRED U.S. ARMY: Certainly, what we saw from the Pentagon was what could be called a balanced and measured strike, a decision made to execute this appropriate response within a very limited time frame.

The real question that comes up, certainly, this was a demonstration of American resolve. But the question remains is, it's 10:00 in the morning in Syria right now, and that is, is this demonstration be what we call a one off, nothing further, or will there be American action to ton demonstrate our commitment against that type of horrific conduct on the part of the Assad regime.

VAUSE: And we'll get to that in a moment.

But we also have CNN military analyst, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona.

Colonel Francona, you know Syria, you know it well. Why was this base targeted? How long before it could be operational again?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, we have to figure out what the standard of the damage is. This base was targeted because it was the base from which the aircraft that conducted this strike took off from. This is not one of the mainline air bases, but it's heavily used. It's the home of two squadrons of the workhorse of the effort on the ground. It's soviet era fighter bomber, mostly used for air-to-ground missions. It's an older Russian, or Soviet-era fighter bomber, mostly used for air-to-ground missions. It's rugged, reliable, and the Syrians fly it every day in lots of sorties. This air base is right off the main highway, so it's very visible to anybody who would be within miles of it. So this air strike was visible. If we were trying to send a message, this was the base to hit. I've actually been to this base a few times. It's right on the road. So it would be visible to anybody in Homs. And I'm sure there were a lot of flames and noise. So we sent the message.

VAUSE: Speaking of a message, the U.S. president addressed the nation just a few hours after the strike. This is what he said about Bashar al Assad. Listen to this.

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TRUMP: Years of previous attempts at changing Assad's behavior have all failed and failed very dramatically. As a result, the refugee crisis continues to deepen and the region continues to destabilize, threatening the United States and its allies.

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VAUSE: So, Christiane, is this one air strike alone likely to check Assad's behavior in any significant way?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: If it doesn't, it's potentially possible that this might happen again. All we know is what the Pentagon is saying right now, which is we hope that this was a one off, that it's deterred at least for the moment, we will see what the reaction is. And that has to be the bottom line. Presumably, it's going to have to come with some channel to Assad to say, OK, we did this, and you have to meet this, this, and this threshold, so we don't do it again. So I think this is something that you cannot, you know, get over the fact that it is the first time in nearly seven years now, seventh year of this war, that the United States and the Western coalition have taken President Assad to task for repeated violations of international law and continued use of banned weapons of mass destruction. So many people were calling for, particularly after President Obama's red line that was never fold up four years ago, for some kind of measure against Bashar al Assad. To be frank, it is incredibly strange, and military analysts will no better than me, why president Assad would have used that kind of tactic this far into the war. He was winning, at least as far as he was concerned. He had Russia, he had Iran. The rest of the world had taken their eye off the Assad ball. They were just focusing on ISIS. But that goes to the heart of presumably who Assad is. And now obviously, potentially, this is an opportunity, if it's so happens, the U.S. president, the Chinese president who are meeting in Florida right now and throughout tomorrow, can get to get maybe with Russia as well to see whether there is a way fad out of this.

VAUSE: Colonel Francona, to Christiane's point, did Bashar al Assad miscalculate here? Was this just a bad decision on his behalf?

[02:09:58] FRANCONA: I think it's a terrible decision. She brings up the best point. There was no reason for him to do this. He was in the best position he's been in in years. The Russians are backing him up militarily. They've had a series of victories. They've been able to move a lot of people, combatants off of the battlefield and into this Idlib province, and he gets a new president in the White House who has said the removal of Bashar al Assad is not one of my priorities, so why does he antagonize the rest of the world by using chemical weapons? I think it has to do with the fact that's where all these rebels are being concentrated. He just wanted to show them that this is what happens when you defy Bashar al Assad, but it was a stupid thing to do. He could kill as many people as he wanted with conventional weapons, but the use of chemicals, big mistake.

VAUSE: That's an element -- some people point to as an element of hypocrisy what's happening right now.

But, General MacCauley, Christiane also mentioned the fact, this is the first direct U.S. attack on Assad's forces. Does it open a new front in the Middle East? MACCAULEY: It certainly -- once again, as we talked about, it's our

demonstration and statement to the world condemning his use of chemical weapons. But as I indicated earlier, the next question is, what are we going to do? What's the follow on? And our options are limited. Would that be further cruise missile strikes, some sort of no-fly zone, would we see -- would we go so far as to actually expand the number of American ground forces situated in Syria, to contain not only ISIS, which we continue to fight, but as well to put some sort of clamp or reservation on the Assad administration? So there are multiple questions that have to be answered. We're dealing with a very, very short time frame, big decisions were made, right decisions, but the follow-up that takes place tomorrow or the next day, that's what we have to look closely at.

VAUSE: Christiane, we're hearing from the White House saying reaction from the international community, in their words, has been incredibly positive. But with that reaction, does that come as an expectation that the U.S. will now have a greater involvement in trying to solve the conflict in Syria?

AMANPOUR: I think we really have to take this at face value and as what it is. We have had all the signals from the administration that this is a proportional, for the moment, one-off strike to try to deter and respond to the unacceptable violation of international law by the use of weapons of mass destruction by Bashar al Assad. I don't expect this right now to lead to any kind of movement towards an Iraq-style invasion or regime change or anything like that. Now, we don't know, but it's very, very unlikely. And those of you who've been -- many of the panelists have said, know that the U.S. and the rest of the allies, including Russia, says that their focus is on ISIS. And we know the United States is carefully right now expanding its encirclement of Raqqa. It is using forces on the ground, not only its own forces but friendly forces inside Syria, mostly the Syrian Kurds, as a fighting force. They're continuing to prosecute their war against ISIS in western Mosul. It's this is going pretty well. It's difficult. It's long. It's a big operation. And there will be civilian casualties as we've seen in Mosul but it's progressing.

The real issue is not to mix up the fight against ISIS and the fight against Assad. And not to believe the propaganda that comes out of Assad that he is fighting terrorists because he is not. He is not. He has not been fighting ISIS in any significant way at all. To be very frank, nor have the Russians. The Russians have been fighting the opposition to Assad. And, yes, the Russians are very, very concerned about terrorism, but they've bought into the Assad propaganda that everybody else in Syria, except for him, are terrorists. And this is where it gets really complicated and requires really smart military and political analysis of the way forward. But do I think this is going to lead to a much wider anti-Assad operation at this particular moment? Those are not the signals we're getting.

[02:14:33] VAUSE: Christiane, you raised the question of Moscow and Russia, which is a good time to take a break. Because when we come back, I'd like you all to stay with us. And we'll go to Moscow and we'll find out how Russia has now factored into all of this.

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VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody. 19 minutes past 11:00 on the west coast.

Breaking news this hour. U.S. warships firing 59 Tomahawk missiles at al Sharat (ph) Air Base near the city of Homs. President Trump says he was targeting the base that Syrian aircraft used to deliver a suspected gas attack earlier this week. That attack killed dozens of civilians, including 11 children in nearby Idlib Province. U.S. officials say Russian troops were at al Sharat (ph) during the air strike but they also note the Russian military was notified ahead of the air strike.

CNN's Matthew Chance, live in Moscow this hour.

Matthew, I understand there's new information coming from the Kremlin.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRSPONDENT: It's immensely important what the reaction of Russia is going to be to this. Russia has its military forces on the ground. It used that military base its attack helicopters for the supporting role they play to support Syrian ground troops. They were essentially in the firing line as well as the Syrians on the ground there.

President Putin -- this is coming from the Kremlin, their first remarks on this issue. The Kremlin spokesman saying, "President Putin regards the American attacks on Syria as aggression against the sovereign state in violation of the norms of international law and under a far-fetched pretext." Remember, the Kremlin and the Russian defense minister argues this was not a chemical attack undertaken by the Syrian air force at all. Instead, it was an air strike they carried out against the storage facility run by the rebels in which they were storing rebel chemical, munitions, and it was the spillage, they say, of those chemicals that caused huge loss of life.

[02:20:08] In terms of the relationship between Russia and the United States, it's been rocky. There were hopes it could be restored under President Trump. He certainly made that kind of commitment during his campaign. I have to say, this has got to be one of the last nails, if not the last nail, in the coffin of any idea there's going to be a detent or a reset between Russia and the United States at this point. Dimitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, saying as much. He said, "This action is causing a significant damage to Russian/American relations, which are already in a bad state." He said, "The ultimate goal of the fight against international terrorism has been set back. This is a serious obstacle to that, against that international coalition to combat and effectively counter this world evil."

So there had been hopes, that Donald Trump had expressed, that they could cooperate with Russia in the fight against international terrorism. The Russians saying this attack sets back that prospect considerably.

VAUSE: Matthew, thank you. Senior international correspondent, Mathew Chance, live with the last at the Kremlin.

Let's go back to our panel, military analyst, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona; retired U.S. Army Major General Mark MacCauley; and CNN's chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour.

Christiane, you heard the reaction there from Vladimir Putin regarding this action as an aggression. Did you expect such a strong response from Vladimir Putin?

AMANPOUR: It's strong, yes, what else did you expect Russia to say. They keep using the term "sovereign nation" and they do obviously keep saying that it was done on a false pretext because the Russians insist, as Matthew pointed out, this wasn't an air strike, a deliberate chemical attack by Syria, but instead, they blame it on the opposition, as they always do at every turn. So, yes, I expected that. That's why it's going to be absolutely crucial to see whether the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's trip to Moscow ,which is planned for Wednesday, goes ahead, and whether any of this can be, you know, sorted, ameliorated in a direct face-to-face between the secretary of state and Vladimir Putin and the foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov.

The dynamic between Russia and the West has been steadily deteriorating since 2014, since the Russian aggression against Crimea and against Ukraine. And most of the West believes that that, in itself, is a violation of international law and a violation of over sovereign areas, like Ukraine. Remember, let's not forget that, in 1994, Russia was a signatory to vowing that Ukraine's international borders would be respected. Russia vowed, along with France and Britain and others who signed into this accord in '94, that they would protect the integrity of Ukraine's boarders in return for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons. If you remember, that was part of a major deal after the fall of the Soviet Union and when all the states broke down into the commonwealth of independent states. So the West and Russia have had a very difficult relationship since then. And, of course, there's sanctions on Russia because of that. This is all very, very difficult. And there is a lot of diplomatic work to be done, if possible, to try to move forward on this issue, and particularly on the joint fight against terrorism.

VAUSE: Strong words from Vladimir Putin after this air strike. There were strong words from the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson before this strike happened. Listen to Rex Tillerson.

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REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: There is no doubt in our minds, and in the information we have supports that Syria, the Syrian regime under President Bashar al Assad, are responsible for this attack. And I think further, it is very important that the Russian government consider carefully their continued support for the Assad regime.

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VAUSE: Colonel Francona, clearly, there is a shift in the way the White House views not just Assad, but if you believe Rex Tillerson, also the way they are viewing now the regime in Moscow.

FRANCONA: Yeah. I think that's right. Whereas, in the past, we were on this bifurcated foreign policy, we wanted two things in Syria, we wanted the remove of the Bashar al Assad regime and we wanted to eradicate ISIS. With the change of administration, we focused almost solely on the eradication of ISIS, willing to let the regime stay in power, hoping at some point there would be a political solution that would address that situation. Now I think we're back to the old policy where we're going to pursue both objectives. That puts us at loggerheads with the Russians.

There were some positive developments -- and we talked about this John -- with the cooperation up in the northern part of Syria where we had the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Kurdish force, backed by the Americans cooperating with the Syrian army, of course, backed by the Russians. And they were able to get things done against ISIS. I'm afraid that that cooperation is going to fall by the wayside, and the fight against ISIS is going to suffer. We're going to be back in the position of being the odd man out. Everyone else seems to be on board fighting ISIS to the exclusion of everything else, except us. We want the removal of Bashar al Assad as well.

[02:25:46] VAUSE: General MacCauley, finally to you, one of the differences now compared to 2013, when President Obama talked about a red line, now, there are a lot more Russian forces inside Syria. They have also managed to provide the Syrians with a more sophisticated air defense system as well. In some ways, the Russians, are they holding the cards here when it comes to any kind of future military strikes or actions that the Americans want to take?

FRANCONA: The Russians are certainly much more vested than in 2013. You made mention of the sophisticated air defense systems that are now in place, yes, S300, S400 air defense weaponry. As well, over the last two, three years, the intense bombing campaigns in support of the Bashar al Assad regime that the Russians have executed. So that creates a multiple complexity that was not in existence in 2013.

Now, it's not fair to look backwards to see what could have been done, although at this point, it would be reasonable to state that if we had taken and moved forward and enforced that red line, that line in the sand back in 2013, at a point in time when the Russians were not so significant vested and resourced in Syria, might we have gotten much more traction and accomplished the objective that we're trumpeting today, that we demonstrated to the world, that the use of these chemical weapons is absolutely forbidden and should be punished, and those that use them should be punished. So should we have done it in 2013? Probably, yes. But we're now faced with decisions, multiple decisions that have to be made beginning now as to what we're going to do to fight both. We have to maintain our vigilance on ISIS and continue that campaign. That is a threat. It has no disappeared in any sense whatsoever. By the same token, we have to enforce international law and preclude what Bashar al Assad did in the last couple of days with the chemical attack on his own citizens.

VAUSE: OK, I'd like you all to stay with us. We'll take a short break. When we come back, I'll take a closer look at how the U.S. missile strike against the Syrian regime is being felt around the world, including the impact on global financial markets. Also, what lies ahead now.

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[02:32:11] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: 32 minutes past 11:00 in Los Angeles.

If you are just joining us on CNN, an update on the breaking news. A barrage of U.S. cruise missiles have struck a Syrian military airfield near the city of Homs. President Donald Trump said it was a direct response to a chemical attack days earlier by the Syrian military. The sarin gas attack killed dozens of citizens in Idlib, including infants and children.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STAWTES: Tonight, I call on all civilized nations in join us in seeking to end this slaughter and bloodshed in Syria and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types.

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VAUSE: 59 of the precision weapons were fired from two U.S. destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea. The U.S. military believes the targeted airport was the base from which the Syrian air force carried out the chemical weapons attack.

There are far-reaching consequences from this U.S. military action not just in the Middle East but also around the world.

Let's go to Matt Rivers, live in Beijing.

Matt, in some ways, the White House is sending a pretty clear message to North Korea as well.

MATT RIVERS, CNN ASIA-PACIFIC EDITOR: Yeah. I mean, it's certainly reasonable to suspect that was a side angle to this action here. It really is about how the North Koreans are going to respond. Do they look at this as a threat or an isolated incident? That's the big question here.

Of course, Syria is a much different situation than North Korea, namely North Korea has nuclear weapons, but it's still an interesting question nonetheless.

And then you turn to China in this part of the world. President Xi is in Florida right now meeting with President Trump later on today as part of two-day summit. Does this come up? China, generally speaking, has been against this kind of intervention. They voted against several U.N. Security Council resolutions in Syria since 2011. They say it gets in the way of a political peace process. Critics would say they only did that because they want to side with Russia and gain political favor with them as a bulwark against the Western countries on the Security Council. But it will be interesting. We are expecting to hear from the ministry of foreign affairs later on today. And we'll see if China sticks to its tune on this kind of thing -- John?

VAUSE: Matt, thank you. Matt Rivers live in Beijing.

To Paula Hancocks now, live in Seoul this hour. She's keeping a close eye on how this is impacting on the markets.

Paula, what's the latest?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, the stock markets aren't reacting too much. Obviously, we are watching is oil. The futures market a little bit earlier on jumped 2 percent when this news first broke. It has since pulled back a little bit. But obviously, the one thing investigators don't like is uncertainty, and that's exactly what they have right now in an oil-rich and politically unstable area like the Middle East. You look at Iran and Russia, two major oil producers. Of course, both staunch allies of the Syrian president as well. We don't know exactly what the full response will be from those two countries. Investigators are watching very closely. Syria is obviously not a major oil producer itself, but it is, unfortunately, close to the Strait of Hormuz. The stock markets themselves, not a huge reaction. Investigators clearly thought they were waking up on Friday morning to deal with the U.S. jobs report. But clearly there is something far more important they're looking at. Most of the market's fairly flat. Japan a half a percent. Beijing up a quarter. Hong Kong down. South Korea down as well -- John?

[02:35:53] VAUSE: Paula, thanks so much. Paula Hancocks live in Seoul.

Back to the panel, CNN's military analyst, Lieutenant colonel Rick Francona; retired U.S. Army Major General Mark MacCauley; and CNN's chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour.

Christiane, the president ordered this air strike just before sitting down with China's leader, Xi Jinping. Does this change the dynamic of their relationship? Do the Chinese now have a different view of the U.S. president?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it's incredibly important and fascinating in the whole area of geopolitics and how leaders react to each other based on what happens. And you have the president of China, who is the second most important leader in the world right now, sitting with the most important leader in the world right now, having come all the way from China to the United States, having studied, we understand from all our Chinese experts, they have been studying President Trump for from his tweets to his social media to his campaign statements to all the things he said about them, and now they arrive and this totally different dynamic is taking front and center stage.

Why is it important? Because potentially it gives Xi a slightly more focused view of President Trump on what he's willing to do. And also because it does actually show and it does set a template or at least a bar for how they all must start to deal properly with North Korea. Nobody's suggesting, although, it has been raised in the United States in fact, that no options are off the table, but how does one deal with a nuclear-armed North Korea, which is the fact of the matter right now. And North Korea has many warheads it has been perfecting and testing, and it has also been testing the delivery system. So you have ballistic missiles fired as late as this week in towards Japan, the Sea of Japan. You had them say and threaten that they are ramping up their intercontinental ballistic missile system, whereby they are threatening the United States. This is a real live, hot crisis for the United States, for Asia, and for the world. All of this plays into what is taking place right now, and what these two leaders are going to be talking about quite apart from the other huge things they need to talk about, which is trade, protective tariffs, all the other things President Trump has been saying throughout the campaign, and how he wants to put what he says China back on a much more fair system with the United States.

VAUSE: With regard to Syria though, U.S. officials are hoping that maybe this message, this missile strike being sent to the Syrian leader, Bashar al Assad, could actually restart the political process.

(CROSSTALK)

So, Colonel Francona, how likely is that to happen?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILTIARY ANALYST: It's hard to say. We're in the early stages of this. We sent a message. Is it received? That's the problem when you do these strikes. The general was eloquent when he was talking about this earlier about how this progresses. What happens if Damascus doesn't get the message? Are we going to continue to escalate this? The problem with sending these messages, if they're not received, now you're stuck, you own this, and you're now committed to escalate further and further. What starts as slapping somebody on the wrist turns into a shooting war.

VAUSE: General, with that in mind, everyone will be watching to see what Assad does next. There's a thousand U.S. troops right now in Syria. Are they all now potentially at risk?

MAJ. GEN. MARK MACCAULEY, U.S. ARMY, RETIRED: Whenever you put a boot on the ground, and when we find yourselves in a hostile environment such as Syria, you're always at risk. There's a potential for loss of life and limb. Absolutely. Are they going to move forward as some sort of concentrated new strategy towards attacking ISIS, and as well perhaps this containment strategy we've formulated and executed in the last 24 hours, that's up to the Pentagon to come forth with an explanation of the days forward?

But I do want to say one thing. As we look back at the last 24 hours and look forward to the next 48 hours or week or month, this is not the first time we've been involved with Tomahawks and a one-off exercise to demonstrate to some dictator that America is intent upon enforcing international law. If you look in '93 at the Clinton administration when Clinton launched 37 Tomahawks, if I recall correctly, into Iraq because Saddam Hussein was not complying with the rules and regulations imposed upon him as a consequence of the Gulf War, and then speed forward to 19998 and Operation Desert Fox, once again, because of noncompliance and international sanctions, and what was stated as Saddam Hussein's probable use or continued manufacturing of chemical weapons, weapons of mass destruction, we launched 417 cruise missiles. The interesting question is, after we did all that over the case of a decade, we still moved into the Iraq War of 2003. So the question is, what do we gain, what traction did we gain? What's the impact of what they did the last 24 hours, and can we exploit it for the benefit of everyone?

[02:41:26] VAUSE: Good point.

With that we'll say thank you to you all, Major General MacCauley, also CNN's chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, and CNN's military analyst, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona. Thank you all so much for being with us.

We'll take a short break. When we come back, we'll take a look at the impact the missile strike could have on politics in the United States.

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(SPORTS REPORT)

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[02:45:44] VAUSE: Welcome back. To our breaking news this hour, the U.S. has launched retaliatory air strikes sending 59 cruise missiles into Syria from U.S. warships in the Mediterranean. The target was a Syrian air base near Homs. The U.S. says Syrian aircraft there were responsible for a chemical attack which killed 86 people, including small children.

Russia is an ally of the Syrian regime. A U.S. official says Russians at the base were warned of Thursday's missile attack.

For a look at the political impact of all this, I'm joined by California talk radio host, Ethan Bearman; and Republican consultant, John Thomas.

John, Donald Trump said repeatedly not to get involved in Syria. Clearly, he was deeply affected by the images which came out of Idlib of dying women and children and civilians. Does that explain everything or is it, once you're in the Oval Office, the view is very differentiate?

JOHN THOMAS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: I think that's the story. You can see he was affected by the, especially the children that were needlessly murdered. But really, it is -- when you're privy to the intelligence that the United States is, and you understand that whether or not more lives are going to be lost, it is up to a decision made by you as commander-in-chief. Trump clearly decided to weigh in on it, and I think it's a major political win for Donald Trump tonight.

VAUSE: Shortly after the air strike, the president explained why he gave the order. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Ethan, just two days ago, Donald Trump was the president of America, not president of the world. Is America no longer first?

ETHAN BEARMAN, TALK RADIO SHOW HOST: Yeah, well, in this case, I think what President Trump realized is that when people like Bashar al Assad are using chemical weapons on women and children, it shocks the conscious of even the most isolationist America-first type president into action. I actually fully support the president in his actions today.

But I would say this. There is a long-standing question, it's a constitutional question, not political, of the separation of powers here in the United States, about the executive branch unilaterally moving in the direction of war. It is Congress that retains the ability to declare war and we have the War Powers Act. That is going to be interesting to see how it plays out in the coming weeks, actually, in this situation.

VAUSE: Oddly enough, some lawmakers have questioned whether the president has the legal authority to order this attack.

This is what Senator Rand Paul said.

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SEN. RAND PAUL, (R), KENTUCKY: The Constitution says that when we go to war, we should vote on it, declare war. Congress should authorize use of force. I'm against going to any war without a vote.

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VAUSE: John, the administration depending on Article II of the Constitution say they do have the legal authority, but what about the moral authority, the political authority?

THOMAS: If Trump wants to continue down this road, he absolutely needs to go to Congress and get approval. You're going to hear that from Republicans in the coming days. Part of what Trump did today, or yesterday, was the element of surprise. That, and responding so urgently, he did not have time to go to Congress in this instance. I think that would have been a misstep.

John, to your earlier comment, I think Donald Trump did put America first, because with his actions today, he is retraining the rest of the world that America means what it says. As we're talking to nations like North Korea and elsewhere, they need to know they can't continue to be bad actors without potential consequences. VAUSE: Back in 2013, Congress ran to the hills when President Obama

tried to get an Authorization for the Use of Military Force to carry out missile strikes, just like this, after a chemical weapons attack carried out by Bashar al Assad. A lot of the lawmakers who were noncommittal back in 2013 are now cheering this.

Ethan, how do you explain the different between then and now? Some people point and say, well, it's kind of just political hypocrisy.

[02:50:03] BEARMAN: There's no question that political hypocrisy is rife in Washington, D.C. We are talking about it every single day. This is another example of it.

But, again, we needed to take action in 2013. This is much later. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of additional people in Syria have died. I am glad to see the United States stepping up and not letting Russia have the full control in the Middle East in this situation. This is good for our allies. This is good for our potential enemies to know where we stand. I'm glad that the action came.

You're right, there is hypocrisy in this. And that is the disaster of D.C. Right now, with the two parties not talking, not compromising, and doing what they're doing, hopefully, this is the kind of thing we can look at and say it's the right thing for the people of Syria, ultimately, that we get to some degree involved. I would not like to go to a full ground war or anything like that, but we must follow through. And Bashar al Assad has shown that he will use chemical weapons. We can't have that.

VAUSE: A lot of people are saying, finally, at least, somebody's done something, because for six years, no one's done anything.

Ethan Bearman, John Thomas, thanks so much. We appreciate it.

BEARMAN: Thanks, John.

THOMAS: Thanks, John.

VAUSE: We're back after short break with more of our breaking news, the U.S. military air strike in Syria. Stay with us.

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[02:55:19] VAUSE: Before we finish this hour, an update on our breaking news. The U.S. has launched an air strike on a Syrian government target in response to Syria's chemical weapon attack on civilians.

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VAUSE: Targeting a Syrian air base where the war planes that carried out the chemical attack came from. The missiles were launched from warships in the eastern Mediterranean.

A U.S. defense official says the strikes are over until, quote, "another decision is made."

A Syrian official says the attack will not stop their fight against what they call terrorism, and the U.S. is, quote, "supporting this terrorism."

The Kremlin says Russian President Vladimir Putin regards the strike as aggression against a sovereign state and a violation of international law.

And we're standing by for a live statement out of the Kremlin by Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov. As soon as that happens, we'll bring it to you right here on CNN.

In the meantime, I'm John Vause.

Our breaking news coverage continues next with Christine Romans and Dave Briggs on "Early Start" after a short break.

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[03:00:11] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.