Republicans Want a Syria Plan From Trump

Key foreign policy Republicans on the Hill supported Thursday’s strike, but they want to hear more about what happens next.

Sen. John McCain speaks to reporters following a briefing on Syria Friday.
AP Photo/Susan Walsh
Adam Wollner
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Adam Wollner
April 7, 2017, 4:38 p.m.

Lead­ing Re­pub­lic­an law­makers on for­eign policy were quick to ap­plaud Pres­id­ent Trump for au­thor­iz­ing a mil­it­ary strike against the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment. Now they want a fully formed strategy from the White House to re­move Pres­id­ent Bashar al-As­sad from power.

In re­sponse to a chem­ic­al at­tack earli­er this week that killed dozens of ci­vil­ians, the U.S. mil­it­ary launched 59 cruise mis­siles at a Syr­i­an air­base late Thursday, the type of ac­tion hawk­ish GOP sen­at­ors in Wash­ing­ton have ad­voc­ated in the past to de­ter As­sad’s re­gime. But after fa­cing years of res­ist­ance from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, they hope this is only phase one of a long-term plan.

“I told him I was very proud of the fact that he ac­ted,” said Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, re­call­ing the con­ver­sa­tion he had with Trump after the strikes were car­ried out. “We’re no longer lead­ing from be­hind. He did the right thing. But it’s got to be the first step in what’s go­ing to be a very long jour­ney.”

Throughout the six-year Syr­i­an civil war, Gra­ham and Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man John Mc­Cain have pushed for a more ag­gress­ive policy to­wards As­sad. The two both re­it­er­ated their calls Fri­day for the U.S. to help ground the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment’s air force, arm rebel forces, and des­troy IS­IS, which they ar­gue would ul­ti­mately cre­ate enough pres­sure to re­move As­sad.

Gra­ham also said the U.S should send between 5,000 and 6,000 ground troops to Syr­ia to help re­take the city of Raqqa, which he said would help im­prove par­ti­cip­a­tion from sur­round­ing coun­tries in the re­gion. Mc­Cain said he did not think ad­di­tion­al troops were ne­ces­sary.

Even though Gra­ham and Mc­Cain have fre­quently clashed with Trump, who cam­paigned on a much more non­in­ter­ven­tion­ist vis­ion, the pres­id­ent spoke with both men by phone Thursday night.

“He’s go­ing to make the ad­just­ments he needs to pro­tect the coun­try,” Gra­ham said. “And I don’t think he’s bound by ideo­logy. I think he’s em­bra­cing the new real­ity.”

Neither Gra­ham nor Mc­Cain thought Trump was re­quired to seek con­gres­sion­al ap­prov­al for the mis­sile strikes he ordered, but they said they’d be open to vot­ing for an Au­thor­iz­a­tion for Use of Mil­it­ary Force if Trump takes fur­ther ac­tion, as long as its scope was broad enough.

“I’m for an AUMF for any­thing. But there’s nev­er been agree­ment be­cause the Demo­crats want to mi­cro­man­age the com­mand­er in chief,” Mc­Cain said. “I’ve had hours and hours of dis­cus­sions. There’s al­ways mi­cro­man­age­ment.”

Like Gra­ham and Mc­Cain, Sen. Marco Ru­bio, a mem­ber of the For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, said the ul­ti­mate goal in Syr­ia should be two­fold: dis­lodging As­sad from power and de­feat­ing rad­ic­al ji­hadists. Un­like Gra­ham, however, Ru­bio said Fri­day morn­ing on CBS that As­sad should be re­moved by Syr­i­ans, not for­eign forces.

Ru­bio also in­tro­duced le­gis­la­tion Fri­day with a bi­par­tis­an group of five oth­er sen­at­ors in­ten­ded to hold As­sad ac­count­able for any war crimes he com­mits.

As for an AUMF, Ru­bio said he would sup­port one that gives the pres­id­ent the gen­er­al au­thor­ity to fight ter­ror­ism abroad, but not one that lim­its the spe­cif­ic groups or areas the U.S. plans to at­tack “be­cause you’ve just tele­graphed to the ter­ror groups where they need to go hide.” While Ru­bio said the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has been tak­ing in­put on a lar­ger strategy to­ward Syr­ia, it is not yet com­plete.

“You’d love to have one yes­ter­day and the day be­fore. We’d like to have one already,” Ru­bio said. “But I’d rather them design it cor­rectly than not.”

Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Chair­man Bob Cork­er, who’s had a closer re­la­tion­ship with Trump than Gra­ham, Mc­Cain, or Ru­bio have had, was not as quick to push the pres­id­ent for a long-term Syr­ia strategy. Cork­er stressed that the mis­sile strikes, which he called a “trans­form­a­tion­al mo­ment” in Trump’s pres­id­ency, were the only step the ad­min­is­tra­tion had planned so far. Be­cause of that, Cork­er said, “there’s no point in an AUMF today.

“Something happened. We re­spon­ded. Now let’s see what next hap­pens,” Cork­er said. “You can’t give in­put un­less you know that next step.”

For his part, Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell also said he viewed the mis­sile strike as a one-time event for the time be­ing. But he ad­ded that he’d be open to look­ing at an AUMF in Syr­ia “if the pres­id­ent feels like he needs it.

“I think this strike was re­lated to the use of chem­ic­al weapons only,” Mc­Con­nell said at a press con­fer­ence. “I don’t ne­ces­sar­ily read in­to that a lar­ger strategy in the area.”

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