Opinion: Trump is willing to bomb where Obama would not

OPINION: What a difference a week makes.  

After Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signaled the US no longer cared about pushing Syria's President Bashar Al Assad from power, his President has performed a dramatic U-turn.

Six years of civil war, 6.5 million people internally displaced, nearly five million refugees and brutal violence with diplomatic failures grinding on in the background were not enough to convince US President Trump that Assad should go.

But Tuesday’s suspected poison gas attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province on Tuesday was. Turkey says some of the 86 victims were exposed to a highly toxic nerve agent called sarin.

Trump called it a "disgrace to humanity". But this is not the first time Syria has used poisonous chemicals to attack its own people. And it’s not supposed to have any sarin gas left.

In 2013, the UN confirmed that sarin had been used in an attack in Ghouta, outside of Damascus. Then-UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon believed it constituted a war crime. He said the UN report into it detailed the most "significant confirmed use of chemical weapons against civilians since Saddam Hussein used them in Halabja in 1988".

At the time of the Ghouta attack in 2013, I was working for the Al Jazeera English network in the Qatari capital, Doha. We had been hearing from various (and sometimes unreliable) sources both in and connected to Syria that chemicals were being used. I doubt Ghouta was the first time chemicals were dumped on the Syrian people and, as it turns out, it wasn’t the last.

US President Obama initially said the use of chemical weapons was a "red line" that could not be crossed without consequences and the administration looked to be on a war footing. But at a pivotal moment, Obama decided to pull back from the brink, walking away from his own red line.

Instead, his administration crafted a deal with Russia to get chemical weapons inspectors into Syria to remove all the chemical weapon stockpiles Assad had admitted to and any more they could find, including sarin gas. It seems Assad saved some for later.

It could be argued the Syrian regime called the United States’ bluff on its red-line threats. The regime killed hundreds of people in Ghouta and still managed to avoid US military intervention.

But if Trump has proved to be the impulsive President that Obama was not, then perhaps Syria is learning that he is also willing to bomb where Obama would not.

Caitlin McGee is a Newshub reporter.