Murphy: “[This was] an announcement, a statement made on Twitter and no rollout of a plan for how the United States is going to continue to try to keep the peace”
WASHINGTON – Last night, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate on President Trump’s decision to withdraw the remaining 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria. Although Murphy has been a critic of the U.S. military involvement in Syria and has called on Congress to reclaim its war-making authority and debate a new Authorization of Use of Military Force (AMUF), during his remarks he criticized the President for making a ham-handed announcement of withdrawal without a sound strategy to complete the mission.
“I thought this was a bad idea from the start,” Murphy said. “Our troop presence in Syria is not authorized by Congress.” Murphy continued to argue that the U.S. presence failed to accomplish its objectives. “We should admit that we have just prolonged [the war] it instead of trying to end it.
“I agree with many of the criticisms that my Republican friends who have come down to the floor have complained about. This was done in a ham-handed manner that makes us weaker in the world. But forgive me if I have a few questions about why my Republican friends chose to speak up only now with questions about the president's Syria policy,” Murphy later added. “Many members of the Republican Party still cling to this outdated, empirically disproved fantastic notion that the American military can solve complicated, convoluted political problems in the Middle East. Now, we have amazing men and women in the Armed Forces, but there are limits to what they can do, and history, especially the history of the last 15 years, tells us that big U.S. military presence in the Middle East often creates as many problems as it solves.”
The full text of Murphy’s remarks is below:
Thank you very much, Mr. President.
Mr. President, I come to the floor today to speak briefly about the president's announcement today that he is going to be withdrawing 2,000 American troops from Syria. Now, let me be clear, I thought this was a bad idea from the start, primarily because our troop presence in Syria is not authorized by Congress. We have had that debate in many forums here, but I believe that this Congress has never authorized the United States military to engage in hostilities against ISIS. It is, I think, an extrapolation of the 2001 AMUF that simply belies common sense. And so, we should never endorse military activity overseas, no matter what we think about the merits if it's not authorized by this body, but we have also seen over and over again that our relatively meager military presence in the Middle East has never been enough to change the political realities on the ground. The training mission was a disaster. The weapons we gave to the rebels ended up in the hands of the people that we were fighting. And ultimately we never had enough firepower there to be able to meaningfully change the balance of power. But I will concede that the way that the president went about making this decision makes our country an even bigger laughingstock than it already is in the region. And frankly that's pretty hard, because everybody is asking questions right now about why we pretended that we were going to protect our Kurdish partners in the region if on the eve of the Turkish offensive against the Kurds we decide to pull out. It makes absolutely no sense to pretend for literal months and months and months that we were going to be the bulwark to protect the Kurds against the Turks, and then right on the precipice of the Turkish offensive, we leave. Why would anybody believe us in the future if we give them our word? And again, I'm speaking as someone who didn't support the intervention in the first place, but once you have made that commitment, why not follow it through?
Second, why pull the rug out from under our diplomats in the region? It's very clear that neither Jim Jeffries nor Brett McGurk knew anything about this. In fact, they were just making plans and suggestions weeks ago to increase our military involvement in the region. And now they are having to explain why 2,000 troops are leaving. If you're going to make a decision like this, make sure the people who are working for you know about it. And third, why announce this pullout without answering any questions about it or announcing an alternative strategy? Total darkness from the national security team. An announcement, a statement made on Twitter and no rollout of a plan for how the United States is going to continue to try to keep the peace.
So I agree with many of the criticisms that my Republican friends who have come down to the floor have complained about. This was done in a ham-handed manner that makes us weaker in the world. But forgive me if I have a few questions about why my Republican friends chose to speak up only now with questions about the president's Syria policy. Where was this outrage when the President of the United States froze millions of dollars in humanitarian funding that could have saved lives on the ground in Syria? If you care so deeply about the future of Syria, why weren't the Republicans lighting up social media down on this floor complaining about the fact that the president refused to forward badly needed humanitarian dollars to the region? Where was the outrage when the president effectively pulled the United States out of the peace process? Remember, the United States under the Obama administration, whatever you think about Obama's strategy, was in the peace process—was a partner to try to figure out a way forward for Syria. Donald Trump, as has been his strategy internationally, pulled us out of that diplomatic conversation, left the diplomatic playing field to the Iranians, to the Russians, and to the Turks. Where was the outrage when the United States walked away from the negotiating table? How about the shutdown of the refugee program? Once again, if your focus is on the cataclysm of humanitarian disaster on the ground in Syria, why weren't there all sorts of members of the Republican Party coming down to the floor and complaining when the president decided to not allow any more Syrian refugees, those fleeing terror and torture to come to the United States? What about outrage over the fact that the president proposed cutting the State Department by 40%, the State Department that's going to be in the driver's seat when we eventually get to the point of putting Syria back together politically?
Why is there outrage only today? Well, here is the answer, I think, and it worries me. I think there is outrage today because many members of the Republican Party still cling to this outdated, empirically disproved, fantastic notion that the American military can solve complicated, convoluted political problems in the Middle East. Now, we have amazing men and women in the Armed Forces, but there are limits to what they can do, and history, especially the history of the last 15 years, tells us that big U.S. military presence in the Middle East often creates as many problems as it solves. And the Republicans who were complaining about this make it sound as if we had a couple divisions in Syria. We didn't. We had 2,000 troops. We had 2,000 troops compared to the hundreds of thousands of troops fighting on behalf of the Syrian regime, the Iranian militias, the Kurdish forces, the rebel forces, the remnants of ISIS's forces. 2,000 troops isn't enough to bluff. It isn't enough to gain a negotiating foothold. It is frankly just enough to keep faking it in Syria, doing just enough militarily to say that we're doing something to be able to sleep at night while never actually doing anything sufficient to change the balance of power. That has been the story of both President Obama and President Trump's policy in Syria. We do just enough to convince the rebels that they should keep going but never enough to actually tackle Bashar al-Assad.
All we have done is keep the civil war running and running and running. And I have really terrible news for y'all. Assad is going to win this war. He was always going to win this war because the folks that were on his side had much bigger equities, Russia and Iran, than the folks that were on the side of the rebels. Now, that really stinks that Bashar al-Assad is going to win, but you have to make policy based on the real world, not on some world that you imagine. And these neoconservatives, they are still even after 4,000 Americans were killed in Iraq and 30,000 were wounded, they’re still clinging to this notion that a couple thousand U.S. troops are going to be able to solve the problems in Syria.
Listen, I get it. Restraint in the face of evil is really hard stuff, but hubris in the face of evil is worse. And so what should we be doing? I won't spend too much time on this, but we should get out of the civil war. We should admit that we have just prolonged it instead of trying to end it. We should keep working with our partners and keep using air power to keep ISIS on the run. We should rescue Syrians with a generous refugee program, both helping our partners in the Middle East, rescue Syrians and bringing them to the United States when they pass our vetting program. And we should stop angering our allies all over the world, but particularly in that region and get back into the diplomatic game. And finally we should stop believing that our only leverage in negotiations in Syria or anywhere else in the world is military force. Put up a promise of massive investment in Syria after a peace deal is signed, likely frankly costing a fraction of what we spend in Iraq, and you will discover that you will quickly get a seat at that table again.
But it's time that we give up on this notion that these brave, capable American soldiers can fix these complicated these tribal, political, economic, and religious problems in the Middle East. They are brave and they are capable, but there are things they can do and there are things they can't do. And every time that we put our troops in situations where they are doomed to fail, when we are not prepared to give them the resources to succeed, as was always the case in Syria, spare me this notion that 2,000 American troops are going to be able to fix Syria. Every time that we put them in situations where they can't win, we undermine American influence, and we undermine the power of our military. I don't agree with how the president did this. Once you have made that commitment, boy, it doesn't make a lot of sense to pull the rug out from under our partners right as the tough stuff starts to come. I don't agree that he didn't do it in consultation with anybody in this place or anybody on the national security team. I think his announcement today is ham-handed and embarrassing, but his instincts aren't entirely wrong. On the question of what American troops can and can't do in the Middle East, -- I can't believe I'm saying this -- I think the president may have learned more than many of my friends in the Senate have. I yield back.