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A medical worker in Damascus condemning the chemical weapons attack in Khan Shaykhun on April 6, 2017, that prompted President Trump to order a military strike. Photo: Sameer Al-Doumy/AFP via Getty Images

When the Assad regime deployed sarin gas against civilians in Khan Shaykhun last April, President Trump took only sixty hours to order missile strikes on a Syrian airfield. Since then, though, the U.S. has largely acquiesced to Assad's routine use of both conventional and chlorine-gas weapons on civilians. That cumulative carnage is far greater than this weekend’s chemical attack in Douma.

Yes, but: A number of factors — including horrific images of victims, which reportedly spurred Trump's decision last April, Russia's warning against U.S. intervention and, ironically, Trump’s recent call to withdraw — may have bolstered rather than diminished the odds of a forceful response. Trump's red-line tweets about Assad paying a big price and his mentioning Putin by name seem to presage military retaliation.

Before making a decision, the Trump administration is working to create an evidentiary standard based on the kinds of chemicals used and their source. In the meantime, the UN Security Council convened on Monday, though Russia holds veto power over its resolutions.

As the region responds to Israel's Sunday night strikes near Homs, which reportedly killed four Iranians, the likelihood and scope of U.S. action in Douma remain of greatest interest. That the city is only 12 miles from Damascus adds a further level of complexity to the U.S. calculus.

The big picture: Whatever the response, the question of U.S. involvement in Syria — beyond hammering the remnants of ISIS and supporting Syrian Kurds — will remain unresolved. As talk of withdrawal temporarily abates, it's a fair assumption that the U.S. isn't backing down or out.

Aaron David Miller is vice president for new initiatives and director of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center.

Go deeper

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York coronavirus restrictions

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled late Wednesday that restrictions previously imposed on New York places of worship by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) during the coronavirus pandemic violated the First Amendment.

Why it matters: The decision in a 5-4 vote heralds the first significant action by the new President Trump-appointed conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who cast the deciding vote in favor of the Catholic Church and Orthodox Jewish synagogues.

USAID chief tests positive for coronavirus

An Air Force cargo jet delivers USAID supplies to Russia earlier this year. Photo: Mikhail Metzel/TASS via Getty Images

The acting administrator of the United States Agency for International Development informed senior staff Wednesday he has tested positive for coronavirus, two sources familiar with the call tell Axios.

Why it matters: John Barsa, who staffers say rarely wears a mask in their office, is the latest in a series of senior administration officials to contract the virus. His positive diagnosis comes amid broader turmoil at the agency following the election.

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COVID-19 shows a bright future for vaccines

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Promising results from COVID-19 vaccine trials offer hope not just that the pandemic could be ended sooner than expected, but that medicine itself may have a powerful new weapon.

Why it matters: Vaccines are, in the words of one expert, "the single most life-saving innovation ever," but progress had slowed in recent years. New gene-based technology that sped the arrival of the COVID vaccine will boost the overall field, and could even extend to mass killers like cancer.