WASHINGTON, DC — Some Democratic lawmakers, during a House panel hearing on Wednesday, accused U.S. President Donald Trump of cooperating with Moscow in Syria after members of the same party repudiated the American commander-in-chief for targeting assets belonging to dictator Bashar al-Assad’s regime, a Russian ally.
The accusations came during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing that took place nearly two weeks after a former top Pentagon official who served under former U.S. President Barack Obama, Andrew Exum, conceded that the previous administration began talks with the Kremlin over Syria, in part, to prevent the fall of the murderous dictator Assad.
Exum admitted that the Obama administration cooperated with Russia to keep Assad in office, arguing that the move helped to prevent potential chaos stemming from regime change in Syria.
Addressing Amb. James Jeffrey, the president’s special envoy for Syria engagement who testified during the hearing, Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) declared, “I’m particularly concerned with the involvement of all the actors in this savage conflict [in Syria]. … For example, you have the Russians … the Trump administration has a friendly, if not complicit relationship with the Russians.”
The Democrat lawmaker went on to highlight the participation of Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar in the Syrian civil war, raging since March 2011.
“You have all these external actors with which we sometimes have a good relationship and sometimes a threatening relationship. This is a mess,” he proclaimed.
Espaillat proceeded to ask Jeffrey whether the Trump administration considers Russia an ally or a foe.
Ambassador Jeffrey, who served under the two previous U.S. administrations, responded:
We believe that Russia can play an important role in resolving this conflict just as it played an important role in making it worse. And that was the reason [U.S. Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo went to Sochi [last week], and President [Vladimir] Putin met with him because President Putin also … would like to find a solution to this conflict because its a dangerous one for Russia. They’ve lost some troops, they’ve lost a lot of airplanes, and they’re in a really precarious situation with a real loser of an ally in Assad.
During the hearing, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) accused the Trump administration of taking cues from Russia and other external players in Syria, including anti-Assad Turkey and Israel.
She told the U.S. envoy:
It seems that the particular conflict in Syria is being birthed out of a need for the people to have freedom and to actualize democracy. And I’m concerned that most of our cues right now [are] being taken from Russia, and Turkey, and Israel and so I’m wondering if that’s sort of a counter-message to what we say we are interested in achieving in Syria.
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX), who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination to take on Trump in 2020, suggested that the U.S. president is in favor of Russian activities in Syria when questioning the witness.
Castro asked, “Do you believe that Russia is acting contrary to U.S. interests with respect to Syria?”
Jeffrey responded by indicating that Russia is acting against some U.S. interests in Syria, explicitly adding that Moscow’s support for Assad “is a mistake.”
In his written testimony, Jeffrey blasted Russia for enabling Assad, noting that the Syrian regime has been able to re-conquer 60 percent of the war-ravaged country with the help of Moscow, Tehran, and Iranian proxies like Hezbollah.
The Syrian conflict has raged for over eight years, fueled by the Bashar al- Assad regime’s despotic and barbaric treatment of its own citizens, Russia’s enabling of Assad’s brutality, and Iran’s malign influence in the region. … Russia has also failed to uphold its pledge to act as guarantor of the regime’s compliance with the 2013 Geneva deal on the elimination of Syrian chemical weapons. The regime continues to devastate its own country and oppresses its citizens.
Echoing the Obama-era official, Jeffrey noted that some U.S. and Russian interests in Syria do overlap.
“The United States and Russia have a shared interest in a secure and stable Syria, one with normal relations with its neighbors and the outside world – a Syria in which foreign forces not there before the conflict are no longer present,” he explained.
Jeffrey noted that the Trump administration “is pursuing three mutually reinforcing whole-of-government strategic objectives in Syria – the enduring defeat of ISIS, the removal of all Iranian-led forces from Syria, and the resolution of the Syrian crisis through a political solution.”
Former President Obama authorized the ongoing U.S. war against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in Iraq and Syria in 2014. Russia entered the Syrian fray the following year.
Trump inherited the war in Iraq and Syria from Obama. Under Trump, U.S.-backed local forces annihilated the territorial caliphate, clearing the more than 40,000 square miles in Iraq and Syria once held by ISIS.
Congressional Democrats pounced when President Trump approved U.S. airstrikes against the Russian-backed Syrian regime in response to the murderous dictator’s use of chemical weapons against his people, something that Obama failed to do despite his “red line” threats. The Trump administration has bombed the Assad regime over its use of chemical weapons at least twice.