At a hearing to examine next steps for U.S. policy toward the conflict in Syria after the failure of recent peace talks in Geneva, U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today said the failure of a sound strategy necessitates new policy ideas, including legislation in Congress, to find a way to end the Syrian conflict, which U.S. intelligence officials have said threatens the U.S. homeland.
“We have no strategy in Syria; we haven’t had one since day one,” said Corker in the hearing. “U.S. policy has completely failed to shift the balance of power, improve the humanitarian situation, or achieve the president’s stated goal of removing Assad. Today, I hope we can use this hearing to generate new policy ideas on Syria—creative, alternative legislative proposals for Congress to propose that will move U.S. policy, and by extension the future of Syria, in a better direction.”
Corker also noted Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s position on the ground in Syria has been strengthened since the chemical weapons agreement with Russia last September stopped U.S. plans for military strikes in Syria.
“This removal of chemical weapons…[is] the very thing that has validated [Assad]; it’s the thing that we did to put him in the strongest position he’s been in since this conflict began,” added Corker. “The reason he’s dragging his feet is because as long as he’s important to that process, he’s going to continue to be buoyed up…1,200 people were killed terribly with chemical weapons. Forty thousand people have been killed since then…It’s kept us from really having any kind of coherent Syria policy. I’m not blaming our country for what has happened in Syria; it’s something we didn’t create, but to act like we have some policy…is very disappointing.”
In February, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified before Congress and also raised concern that Assad’s position has been strengthened since the agreement to remove chemical weapons.
“The prospects are right now that [Assad] is actually in a strengthened position than when we discussed this last year, by virtue of his agreement to remove the chemical weapons, as slow as that process has been,” said Clapper at a House Intelligence Committee hearing on February 4.
In an exchange with Senator Corker at today’s hearing, Dr. Vali Nasr of Johns Hopkins University also noted the consequences of the chemical weapons agreement and the mixed messages sent by U.S. policy.
“We gave a signal to the neighborhood that we’re going to take care of this crisis, and then we didn’t,” said Nasr at the hearing. “And then when the neighborhood witnessed that we weren’t participating in the crisis -- and also I agree with you that through the chemical weapons deal essentially we turned Assad into a partner in an international agreement that requires his acquiescence -- the region decided that they have to take care of their own interests on their own…and therefore we now have a much more complicated situation.”