Members of Congress from both parties expressed approval for the recent U.S. strikes against the Syrian government, but many are left wondering what should come next.
House Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce and Ranking Member Eliot Engel both noted the missile strikes were a good response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons attack, which killed more than 80 civilians. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson claimed shortly after the attack that the strikes were a “proportional” response to Assad’s actions, but now both Republicans and Democrats want to know what the administration plans to do next.
“Now, having taken military action, the United States has a chance to take Syria policy on a different path,” said Royce in an opening statement during a hearing Thursday.
“This won’t be easy,” added the Chairman, “but Syria can’t … keep going on and on like this. That’s not in our humanitarian interest, the interest of the region, or America’s national security interest. This has to change.”
Engel noted that for more than six years, “global powers have been unwilling or unable” to resolve the Syrian conflict. He added that while the strikes were “appropriate,” the administration’s strategy is unknown.
“And the short answer is this: at this point there seems to be no strategy,” said Engel. “A pinpoint missile strike is not a strategy.”
The committee called upon several expert witnesses to help them determine what Trump’s future strategy may be.
Michael Singh, a senior fellow and managing director at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told the committee there is a “tragic repetitiveness” regarding the Syrian conflict.
He said that the U.S. should focus on three core issues going forward: prevent Syria from further destabilizing the region, push back on Iranian influence, and deny a safe haven for terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda.
Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, noted that whatever the U.S. policy on Syria going forward, Assad is not the answer.
“If anyone believes that Bashar al-Assad is now the key to stabilizing Syria, they have learned nothing from the country’s recent history,” said Lister in his written testimony. “Assad cannot and will never be capable of putting Syria back together again.”
Lister also noted that the choice in Syria is not a “binary one between Assad and ISIS.” He warned that a solution will take time and requires a stronger U.S. posture, which includes the potential for future punitive strikes.
Dr. Dafna Rand, a former deputy assistant secretary at the Department of State and adjunct professor at the National Defense University, told the committee that chemical weapons deterrence must also be a priority in future policy along with protecting the Syrian people.
Both Republicans and Democrats thanked the experts for their testimony, but lamented that Trump administration officials were not available for testimony. Some Republicans blamed Democrats for holding up confirmations for appointees, while Democrats faulted the White House for failing to make nominations in the first place.
The administration has offered few details on future Syria policy since the strikes. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer did note that the world can expect Trump to react if Assad engages in further chemical attacks.
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