Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., says now is not the time to cut American investment in diplomacy following President Trump’s decision to launch a missile strike against Syria.
“What could go wrong with launching a missile strike on Syria?” Coons asked sarcastically during a Monday morning interview with CNN.
Turning more serious, Coons explained the difficulties in stopping Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad from using chemical weapons on his own people again. “The situation in Syria is complex and dangerous,” Coons said. “This is not the time to significantly cut our investment in diplomacy and development and humanitarian aid, because navigating our way through very complex crises in Syria and Iraq is going to be difficult and expensive.”
He called Assad a war criminal who has used “every single weapon of war from SCUD missiles to cluster bombs, to poison gas to starvation as a tool of war to mass torture. He has done horrific and unspeakable things against his own people.” The Trump administration’s position on Assad is a bit confusing, Coons said. “As recently as two weeks ago [administration leaders] were saying that we have to just accept Assad as the ongoing leader of Syria and let his own people work it out because our primary focus needs to be ISIS.”
Dealing with Assad and his supporters in Russia will take multilateral support. “If you’re going into a big fight, bring some big friends,” Coons said. “Continuing to close the gaps created between our vital allies in NATO and across Europe by President Trump’s irresponsible statements as a candidate is urgent work.” He said it’s up to members of Congress and the administration to mend those relationships.
Coons is also concerned about retaliation from Syrian supporters for last week’s missile strikes. “We have thousands of Americans engaged in the fight against ISIS on the ground in Iraq, and I’ll remind you they’re very exposed,” Coons said. “As we take more action against Assad, his supporters Iran and Russia may well take actions against Americans in the battlefield, and so the strategy for what we’re doing needs to take that into account.”
Eventually, international pressure will convince Vladimir Putin to back off of his support of Assad, Coons said. “But his immediate response to this strike has been to double down on Assad, and if we know anything about Putin, it’s that he’s a stubborn and exceptionally aggressive man.”
Coons said he hopes Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be successful in his meetings this week with the Russian foreign minister in Moscow, “beginning that process of clarifying what our red lines are, and what we’re willing to do with Russia in terms of sanctions on Syria or Russia and in terms of building an international coalition to ratchet up the pressure on Assad.”