Senators say White House hasn’t laid out Syria strategy

Greg Nash

Senators left a closed-door briefing Friday saying the Trump administration did not lay out a comprehensive plan for Syria.

Lawmakers huddled with Gen. Joseph Dunford, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, on Friday afternoon but said the meeting focused on an airstrike carried out Thursday and did not touch on what the administration’s broader policy toward Syria is.

“There are clearly lots and lots of questions that the general wasn’t prepared to answer,” Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member Mark Warner (D-Va.) told reporters.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) — the No. 2 Senate Republican — told reporters the administration could provide additional briefings but hadn’t currently laid out a broader strategy.

“We don’t have the benefit of a larger strategy. The same reason I think the administration difficulty coming up with a strategy, because it’s very very complicated,” he said when asked what he had learned about the administration’s strategy.

{mosads}Cornyn added that there were “discussions” about the legal authority being used in Syria and whether the administration’s main target is President Bashar Assad government’s or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“We … need a strategy to figure out what is our goals in Syria,” he said. “Is our goal just to defeat ISIS or is our goal to change the regime, and if there is policy to change the regime what comes next?”

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) — who supported a war bill to ban ground combat troops in Syria — told reporters that Dunford wasn’t able to answer questions about the legal authority or where the airstrikes fit into the Trump administration’s broader policy.

“There are huge questions about the legality of the strike and how it sits in a broader Syria strategy and none of those questions can be answered in this briefing,” he said.

The U.S. launched a missile strike Thursday night targeting an airfield near the city of Homs in retaliation to a deadly chemical attack this week, according to The New York Times, which U.S. and other Western officials have attributed to the government of Assad. The U.S. strike killed nine.

Murphy added that Thursday’s strikes were the “beginning and the end” of military action in response to that specific chemical attack.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) added that “it’s not as if there’s a broader engagement that at this time is planned.”

Most lawmakers have been supportive of the strikes, noting they were a response to a chemical attack that killed dozens of Syrians, but urged the the president to consult with Congress before taking additional action.

“I think the president should provide us with a comprehensive plan for what his vision is and how we’re going to go forward,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) told reporters after the briefing.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who has offered a war bill against ISIS, said they did not discuss policy specifics beyond the airstrike, including the need for potential safe zones in Syria.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) added that he thinks the administration is waiting to see how Assad reacts to the airstrikes before it nails down a strategy.

“In the the short to immediate term we’ve got to defeat ISIS. I think the administration is assessing what their strategy is going to be there,” he said. “That strategy has to be laid out and hopefully in consultation with Congress.”

He added that the administration’s strategy on actions on the Assad government “a lot depends on the reaction of the Syrians and Russians,” who are supportive of Assad in the nation’s ongoing civil war.

“Right now they’re assessing a strategy as relates to ISIS,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen with Syria because I don’t know what their reaction is going to be.” 

Tags Bob Corker Chris Murphy Jeff Flake John Cornyn Mark Warner Ron Johnson
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