WASHINGTON, D.C. (WEHT) – Tuesday U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced his legislative measure regarding the proper role for American leadership in Syria and delivered these remarks on the senate floor:
“My colleagues know that I opposed President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria. So, I am encouraged by press reports his administration is considering retaining a military presence in that country to keep the pressure on ISIS.
“Since September 11, our nation has learned several key lessons about the fight against radical Islamic terrorism. The terrorist threat cannot be wished away. The terrorists mean us harm, and we cannot allow them to establish safe havens and solidify networks. When they do, the bloodshed ends up on our shores.
“American leadership is essential. We have seen our partners and allies step up and take on important roles. In fact, as we speak, France is playing a leading role in the African Sahel. But just about every place President Obama tried to ‘lead from behind’ provides tragic reminders that there are certain kinds of leadership only America can contribute.
“But fortunately, we’re not in this alone. The huge progress we’ve won in recent years against ISIS and the Taliban has come by partnering with local forces, with support from a broad international coalition. America has only provided limited, specialized capabilities to reinforce the local partners who do the heaviest lifting. This approach is sustainable.
“Unfortunately, we know exactly what happens when America forgets these lessons and simply decides we are tired of sustaining the fight. Abandoning Afghanistan in the 1990s helped create the conditions for al Qaeda’s ability to grow and plan the September 11th attacks from a safe haven far from our shores.
“President Obama’s retreat from Iraq allowed ISIS to rise from the still-warm ashes of Al Qaeda in Iraq.
“If not arrested, withdrawing from Syria will invite more of the chaos that breeds terrorism and create a vacuum our adversaries will fill. It will invite the brutal Assad regime to reassert its oppressive control over northeastern Syria, repressing Sunni Arab communities and creating the same conditions that led to ISIS’s growth.
“Russia will gain more leverage to amass power and influence throughout the Middle East, project power into the Mediterranean, and even promote its interests in Africa.
“Iran-backed forces could have access to a strategic corridor that runs all the way from Tehran through to the very doorstep of Israel.
“So, where do we go from here? Well, many of us in the Senate were ahead of the game on the need to reaffirm American global leadership in the ongoing fight against radical terror.
“At the beginning of the year, a bipartisan supermajority of senators warned about exactly this course of events. My McConnell amendment to S. 1 earned 70 votes back in February. We specifically warned against a precipitous withdrawal from either Afghanistan or Syria and noted the need for an American presence.
“Congress should reaffirm the same truths today. And we should do so strongly.
“Unfortunately, the resolution crafted by House Democrats is not sufficient. It is not so much wrong as it is badly insufficient. It focuses solely on the Kurds, ignoring the critical Sunni Arab community that suffered under both Assad’s regime and ISIS, and vulnerable minority communities like the Christian Arabs of Syria.
“And the House was silent on the key matter of maintaining an actual, physical U.S. military presence in Syria.
“Perhaps the goal was to paper over disagreements within the Democratic Party.
“After all, our colleague the senior senator from Massachusetts recently told a national television audience, ‘I think that we ought to get out of the Middle East.’ And almost all of our Democratic colleagues currently running for president refused to sign on to the McConnell amendment that earned 70 votes.
“But we can’t afford to dance around the critical question of a U.S. presence in Syria and the Middle East for the sake of Democrats’ presidential primary. The Senate needs to speak up. We cannot effectively support our partners on the ground without our own military presence.
“Senators who thought we should withdraw from Syria and Afghanistan in February do not get to criticize President Trump for withdrawing from Syria today unless they go on the record, admit they’ve changed their minds, and say it’s too dangerous to quit.
“And so today, along with Chairmen Inhofe, Risch, Burr, and Graham, I am introducing a stronger resolution that acknowledges hard truths and focuses on our strategic interests in the Middle East.
“Our resolution acknowledges the vital role that our Kurdish and Arab Syrian partners have played in rooting out and destroying ISIS’s caliphate. It condemns Turkey’s decision to escalate hostilities in Syria, warns against the abandonment of our allies and partners in Syria, and urges President Trump to rethink his invitation for President Erdogan to visit the White House.
“It also acknowledges Turkey’s legitimate national security concerns emanating from the conflict in Syria and the significant risk to the United States if such a strategically consequential ally were to fall further into Moscow’s orbit.
“It recognizes the grave consequences of U.S. withdrawal: the rising influence of Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime, and the escape of more than a hundred ISIS-affiliated fighters detained in the region.
“We specifically urge the president to end the drawdown, something that fortunately appears to be underway. We urge a re-engagement with our partners in this region.
“We highlight the need for international diplomatic efforts to end the underlying civil wars in Syria and Afghanistan on terms that address the conditions that have allowed al Qaeda and ISIS to thrive. We cannot repeat this mistake in Afghanistan.
“Now, I am aware there is some appetite on both sides of the aisle to quickly reach for the toolbox of sanctions. I have myself played a critical role in creating sanctions regimes in the past. But I caution us against developing a reflex to use sanctions as our tool of first, last, and only resort in implementing our foreign policy.
“Sanctions may play an important role in this process, and I am open to the Senate considering them. But we need to think extremely carefully before we employ the same tools against a democratic NATO ally that we would against the worst rogue states.
“Do we know what political impact such sanctions will have inside Turkey? Will they weaken President Erdogan? Or rally the country to his cause?
“Do we know the impact sanctions will have on U.S. companies, or on the economies of our closest allies who have deeply integrated their economies with Turkey?
“If we’re going to use sanctions against a democratic ally, we’re going to have to be careful. We’re going to have to be smart. We’re going to have to be thoughtful and deliberate. We don’t want to further drive a NATO ally into the arms of Russia.
“Serious conversations about the use of sanctions must involve our colleagues on the Foreign Relations, Banking, and Finance committees, to ensure that this tool is used correctly.
“The most important thing the Senate can do right now is speak clearly and reaffirm the core principles that unite most of us, Republicans and Democrats, about the proper role for American leadership in Syria, in the Middle East, and in the world.
“We hope the damage in Syria can be undone. But perhaps even more importantly, we absolutely must take steps so the same mistakes are not repeated in Iraq or Afghanistan.
“I feel confident that my resolution is a strong and sorely-needed step. I feel confident my colleagues will agree. And I urge them to join me.”
(This story was originally published on October 22, 2019)