Washington—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, today delivered the following opening remarks at a committee hearing on the Trump Administration’s Syria policy:
“This Committee has a long tradition of bipartisanship. Mr. McCaul and I work on that every day. I think we’re the most bipartisan committee in Congress.
“The main reason is that members on both sides tend to share a vision of American foreign policy that’s firmly rooted in and guided by our values—particularly support for human rights and human dignity. We know that American leadership can and should be a force for good in the world. We know that on the world stage, our country thrives on the power of partnerships and alliances.
“But as Congress, we’re limited in what we can do to actually make foreign policy. We can advance legislation and send strong messages and conduct oversight that we hope will push policy in the right direction. But at the end of the day, the tools to make policy largely reside with the President. And what we’ve seen these past two weeks has been just devastating as far as I am concerned
“It was around two weeks ago that President Trump had a phone call with Turkey’s President Erdogan, who more closely resembles an autocrat than the President of a NATO ally. Despite the Administration’s spin, we all know that Trump gave Erdogan the green light to charge into Northern Syria.
“What followed was completely predictable for anyone who’s paid attention to the Middle East: a brutal campaign of violence against the Syrian Kurds, our partners who courageously stood alongside us in the fight against ISIS. All the worst-case scenarios we imagined played out at stunning speed.
“To start: the betrayal of our Kurdish partners. We handed them over to be slaughtered and ethnically cleansed from a region where they’ve lived for generations, with no warning and for no good reason.
“How could the United States do something so senseless, so disgraceful, so contrary to our values? What message does it send to our other partners and allies? To our adversaries? To our brave men and women in uniform who served alongside the Kurds?
“We also have to address the humanitarian crisis this has created. Already, tens of thousands have been displaced—families, women, and children. There are stories of gruesome killings, torture, and abuse. All set into motion by the President’s horrific decision.
“And this decision was a body blow to our national security. President Trump has handed a gift to America’s enemies: ISIS, Russia, and Iran. Coalition efforts to fight ISIS begun under the Obama Administration had made a lot of progress. We had reclaimed territory and put thousands of ISIS fighters in prisons. Who ran those prisons? Our Kurdish partners. Now the Kurds are fighting tooth and nail to survive Turkey’s assault. And so, the fate of those thousands of the ISIS fighters is now dangerously up in the air, and more than one hundred have already escaped.
“It’s safe to say ISIS is celebrating President Trump’s foreign policy right now. He’s handed them their biggest victory in over four years. But they’re not the only ones rejoicing.
“Assad regime forces in Syria—backed by Iran and Russia—are now filling the vacuum left by America’s withdrawal. To see Russian-backed forces triumphantly moving in, taking over our American bases—it’s just disgraceful. It hurts. It’s embarrassing. And Putin knows it.
“And for all of these disastrous effects of Trump’s initial decision, the President’s actions to try to paper over this mistake has only done more damage.
“Last Thursday, the Administration announced that they had negotiated a ‘ceasefire’ with Turkey. This is a pattern of President Trump’s presidency—he likes to play the part of the fireman—when really, he’s the arsonist who started the fire in the first place. I know Mike Pence the Vice President, worked hard on this, but it was impossible to put out the fire. The reality of this five-day, so-called ‘pause’ is that Turkey got everything it wanted. And that arrangement ended yesterday, with no real plan from the Administration for what comes next.
“And this is the worst example I’ve seen of what I call this Administration’s ‘fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants’ foreign policy. One minute, the President’s shouting from the rooftops that he’s fine with what Turkey is doing. The next, he says he’ll destroy Turkey if they continue. One day, he’s ‘bringing our soldiers home.’ The next, he’s moving them to continue their mission, but just over the Syrian border in Iraq. And the day after that, he’s suddenly saying that some will actually stay in Syria after all— not to protect the Kurdish fighters which we should do, the Kurdish fighters who stood shoulder to shoulder with our personnel—but to protect the oil fields there.
“It’s all a mess. There’s only one thing that’s certain here: the President yet again created a disaster. This is a troubling moment in our history—a stunning defeat for the United States offered up willingly by a President who I believe has done serious damage to American leadership around the world.
“Today, we need to hear how the Administration plans to grapple with the consequences.
“What sort of signal do our friends take from this whipsawed foreign policy? And our adversaries? What kind of message does it send to the world when the President cannot be trusted to act in the interests of the United States? How can America be trusted to keep its word when we betray one of our close partners? And how do we handle the threats of ISIS, Iran, and Russia, now that they’ve been handed a remarkable victory by the President of the United States?
“I look forward to hearing our witnesses address these issues, but first let me recognize our Ranking Member, Mr. McCaul of Texas, for any remarks he might have.”
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