WASHINGTON D.C. – On Thursday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing on Syria, considering options for the war-torn country and the potential of a “post-Assad Syria” and its survivability as a state.
House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) called Assad’s behavior “abhorrent” and said he was sending a “demoralizing message” to Syria’s civilian population with his April 4 Sarin attack in the country’s southern Idlib Province which left at least 85 civilians, including children, dead. He can “kill with impunity… and no one will help you,” Royce said of Assad.
“As U.S.-backed forces gain ground in the east, Assad could be confined to the west, opening up sanctuaries in which Syrians might find refuge and establish basic governance,” Royce said. He suggested, “From there, the United States and our allies must work together to advance a plausible vision of a post-Assad Syria. This won’t be easy. But Syria can’t go keep going on and on like this. That’s not in our humanitarian interest, the interest of the region, or America’s national security interest. This has to change.”
In his opening remarks, the Foreign Affairs Committee’s Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) agreed with Royce that the missile strikes President Trump ordered in response to Assad’s chemical attack were “appropriate.” However, he criticized the Trump administration for having “no strategy” in Syria. “And the short answer is this: at this point, there seems to be no strategy,” Engel said. “A pinpoint missile strike is not a strategy.”
Many Americans have expressed concern over the possibility of another ground war in the Middle East.
Michael Singh, a senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, suggested that the “Trump administration should resist ‘solutionism.'” He added his belief that “the roots of the conflict in Syria run very deep; the United States will not and should not ‘solve’ Syria, even if we expend vast resources in the attempt.”
Instead, Singh suggested that the U.S. should focus on three core issues going forward: namely, preventing the Syrian conflict from further destabilizing the region, limiting Iran’s power and influence in the war-torn region, and denying a safe haven for terrorist groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.
Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, criticized the Obama administration’s failure to act during his time in office. “We have switched from all talk and no action, to lots of talk and action to address symptoms,” reads his written testimony of the transition into the Trump presidency. Lister added that Assad is not the answer to fixing Syria’s problems.
“If anyone believes that Bashar al-Assad is now the key to stabilizing Syria, they have learned nothing from the country’s recent history,” he said. “Assad cannot and will never be capable of putting Syria back together again.”
Lister also noted that the choice in Syria is not a “binary one between Assad and ISIS, as some have tried to claim.” He said that a solution will require time and that it includes a very strong United States. On Iran, Lister wrote, “The United States must urgently acknowledge and act to confront the malign activities of Iran in exploiting pre-existing instability in the Middle East to undermine its rivals and to establish hegemonic influence for itself.”
While the White House has not yet outlined a specific plan for Syria, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer recently stated, “If you gas a baby, if you put a barrel bombing to innocent people, I think you can see a response from this president.” He added, “That’s unacceptable.”