Engel Remarks on Syria Policy
- As Delivered –
WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following remarks on Syria at the full Committee hearing:
“Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. And let me also thank our witnesses and welcome you all to the Foreign Affairs Committee.
“This morning, the Committee will continue its examination of a challenge that, for more than six years, global powers have been unable or unwilling to resolve: the brutal war that Bashar al Assad and his enablers have waged against the people of Syria. Hundreds of thousands are dead at the hands of this butcher. Millions more have been driven from their homes. And every time the potential for a resolution has been in sight, Assad has been granted another lifeline.
“The missile strike early this month escalated American involvement against Assad to a new level. I think the response was appropriate. But a few weeks down the road, we’re left asking, ‘Where do we go from here? What are our objectives in Syria? What’s the strategy?’
“And the short answer is this: at this point, there seems to be no strategy. A pinpoint missile strike is not a strategy. That’s a problem for the people of Syria, and it’s part of a troubling pattern from the White House. In 100 short days, the Administration has escalated tensions with North Korea owing to reckless saber rattling, gone hot and cold on China, cozied up to Putin, and caused diplomatic embarrassments with some of our closest allies.
“At the same time, most top State Department posts remain vacant, and the expertise of our diplomats is clearly being ignored. You cannot fly by the seat of your pants when it comes to foreign policy. On the global stage, policy by improvisation confuses our friends and tees up opportunities for our adversaries. For example, I’m convinced that the Administration’s reversal on the long-held policy of removing Assad emboldened him to carry out the sarin gas attack in the first place.
“If indeed there is a strategy, Congress has been kept in the dark. We were told that the Administration would soon present us with its plan. That hasn’t happened.
“I think back to the 2011 strike in Libya, which also took place during a recess. And there was a lot of criticism for that. But the week Congress returned, Secretary Clinton, Secretary Gates, Chair of the Joint Chiefs Mullen, and DNI Clapper were all here on Capitol Hill telling lawmakers about the path forward. Whether we agreed with it or didn’t agree with it, we at least learned about it.
“So far, no such briefing has been scheduled on Syria. And of course, no Administration witnesses are testifying before us today because so few senior State Department officials are in place.
“So while we wait for this Administration to draw up a strategy, there are a few things the President and his team should bear in mind.
“First, military action alone will not solve the crisis in Syria. Only a political transition—one that removes Assad from power—will put the Syrian people on the path towards rebuilding and recharting the course for their country’s future.
“We need the means to help push that process forward. My bill that I introduced with Chairman Royce, the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, would provide some of those tools to pressure Assad and his patrons in Moscow and Tehran. The House passed the bill unanimously last year and I'm grateful to Chairman Royce for planning to mark-up this legislation up again next week.
“We also need senior diplomats in a place who can drive the policies that will lead to a solution. It’s nearly May. The President has only just announced his pick for Deputy Secretary of State, and he hasn’t even nominated an Under Secretary for Political Affairs or Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs. And rather than working to fill these vacancies as quickly as possible, the Administration instead seems intent on slashing the resources needed to conduct effective diplomacy. We learned about that at the last hearing we had.
“Second, there must be no further American military action in Syria without Congressional say-so. The 60-day War Powers Resolution clock started ticking when President Trump notified Congress of the missile strike. The President must come to Congress if his Syria strategy includes military involvement. No matter anyone’s view of how we should grapple with this problem, Congress’s voice must be heard, and we will not simply give this Administration—or any administration—a blank check.
“For now, we’ll keep pushing the Administration for answers and pressing for a strategy that will advance a political solution, get Assad out of power, and end the suffering of the Syrian people. I’m grateful to our witnesses for sharing their views on what such a strategy looks like. And I yield back the balance of my time.”