Senators Eviscerate ‘Delusional’ Administration for Having No Strategy in Syria

Syrian rebels fighting pro-regime forces gather along a road in Syria's eastern town of Deir Ezzor, on August 17, 2013. Al-Qaeda loyalists attacked a mainly Kurdish town in northeastern Syria sparking fighting in which 17 people were killed, two of them ambulance crew, a watchdog said.
National Journal
Sara Sorcher
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Sara Sorcher
March 26, 2014, 1:41 p.m.

Sen­at­ors hurled a flood of in­sults at seni­or State De­part­ment of­fi­cials on Wed­nes­day, in­sist­ing that the in­ter­na­tion­al push to re­move chem­ic­al weapons from Syr­ia has be­nefited, not pun­ished, strong­man Bashar al-As­sad at the ex­pense of tens of thou­sands of Syr­i­ans who have died since the deal was ne­go­ti­ated last year.

The com­bat­ive hear­ing, which saw law­makers dis­miss an­swers to ques­tions about U.S. strategy in Syr­ia as “ba­lo­ney” and “de­lu­sion­al,” was ex­plos­ive from start to fin­ish. The the­at­rics began after the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion dodged the first ques­tion from Sen. Robert Men­en­dez, who chairs the Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee. The New Jer­sey Demo­crat wanted to know wheth­er the U.S. is con­sid­er­ing any mil­it­ary ac­tions to help en­sure that As­sad’s gov­ern­ment does not quash the op­pos­i­tion.

Anne Pat­ter­son, the as­sist­ant sec­ret­ary of State for Near East­ern af­fairs, de­murred on out­lining pos­sible mil­it­ary op­tions in a pub­lic set­ting.

Cue the fire­works.

“Are you sit­ting here, try­ing to in­dic­ate to the me­dia and the people listen­ing that you guys have ac­tu­ally de­veloped a mil­it­ary strategy re­l­at­ive to Syr­ia, and that you will talk about it in a clas­si­fied set­ting?” Sen. Bob Cork­er, the top Re­pub­lic­an on the com­mit­tee, asked. “Be­cause if you are, that would be ma­jor news.”¦ [And it’s the most] ma­jor, mis­lead­ing ba­lo­ney I’ve heard since I’ve been in the U.S. Sen­ate.”

Pat­ter­son re­tor­ted that she would not “be, in ef­fect, bul­lied in­to an­swer­ing” in an open set­ting, so Cork­er answered for her.

“Let me just as­sure to the world: The U.S. has no mil­it­ary op­tions on the table,” he said. “What is our strategy in Syr­ia? I don’t see we have one, oth­er than let­ting people kill each oth­er off, and let­ting it fester…. To act like you have some sort of clas­si­fied in­form­a­tion is mis­lead­ing.”

Pat­ter­son in­sisted that the U.S. does have a policy to bol­ster the se­cur­ity of sur­round­ing coun­tries such as Jordan, send hu­man­it­ari­an as­sist­ance to rebels, and sup­port a dip­lo­mat­ic solu­tion to the con­flict while try­ing to “change the cal­cu­lus on the bat­tle­field.”

“I agree that many ele­ments of our policy have not been suc­cess­ful,” Pat­ter­son ad­ded, “but I think we are try­ing to re­vise our policy now.”

Sen. John Mc­Cain ap­peared astoun­ded. “This con­flict’s been go­ing on for three years. 150,000 people are dead,” the Ari­zona Re­pub­lic­an said. “And we are only now re­vis­ing our policy.”

Cork­er had some dark words for U.S. in­ac­tion, call­ing the ef­fort to re­move and des­troy As­sad’s chem­ic­al stock­piles a “shiny ob­ject” to dis­tract the U.S. from the bloody con­flict. “The best thing that ever happened to As­sad — this sounds really crass — was kill 1,200 cit­izens with chem­ic­al weapons,” Cork­er said, “be­cause [the U.S.], Rus­sia, and oth­ers have now propped him up and used that killing to al­low 40,000 more people to be killed.”

Tom Coun­try­man, as­sist­ant sec­ret­ary of State for in­ter­na­tion­al se­cur­ity and non­pro­lif­er­a­tion, said the deal forced As­sad to give up the chem­ic­al weapons he wanted as a stra­tegic de­terrent against Is­rael and con­strained him from us­ing them against his own people. “These are ac­tu­al losses for him.”

Cork­er fired back: “I think you’re de­lu­sion­al.”

“If I could ex­pand on my de­lu­sions,” Coun­try­man said, the in­ter­na­tion­al agree­ment has not val­id­ated or fun­da­ment­ally strengthened As­sad enough to change the mil­it­ary cal­cu­lus on the ground.

Men­en­dez punted some of these fiery ques­tions to a clas­si­fied set­ting. He wants to know all the mil­it­ary op­tions be­ing con­sidered and to ob­tain a com­plete list of overt and cov­ert ac­tions the U.S. is tak­ing to help the vet­ted Syr­i­an rebels. The chair­man also wanted to know what the U.S. plans to do with any chem­ic­al weapons As­sad has not yet dis­closed — and what tan­gible con­sequences Syr­ia will face if it does not des­troy its de­clared stock­piles by June 30.

“That’s what we want to know,” Men­en­dez said. “I don’t want to go to a clas­si­fied hear­ing with what I read in The New York Times.

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