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Corker: Russia, Iran Have 'Taken' Syria and 'They Have Defense Mechanisms'

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) appears on Capitol Hill in Washington on April 19, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said U.S. policy on Syria should acknowledge that Russia and Iran have “taken” the country and will fight against U.S. intervention.

Senate Armed Services Committee member Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said after a Wednesday briefing with Defense Secretary James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford on Syria policy that he was “very unnerved by what I’m hearing and seeing” and felt the administration was “going down a dangerous path.”

Asked on CNN this morning if he shared that view, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) replied, “Not really.”

“I thought Mattis did a great job. So, look, I mean the administration is clear they’re not going to stay to help shape what’s happening on the ground in Syria against Assad, Russia and Iran. They’ve been clear for a long time,” he said. “And, look, we basically gave the country to Russia and Iran three or four years ago when we invited them in over the chemical weapons issue. They’ve taken it. They have defense mechanisms.”

“Where I think the administration — we need to be a little concerned is over what they’re doing against ISIS and talking about taking the 2,200 troops we have out too quickly there,” he added. “Fortunately, Mattis intervened when the White House said they were leaving quickly. And we’re not going to do that. We’re going to stay behind, the SDF that we have there, and support the Kurds that are doing the fighting for us on the ground.”

The Syrian Democratic Forces have been the main army battling ISIS, ousting the terror group from their capital Raqqa.

Though some Republicans in Congress have said Trump needs to come to lawmakers for authorization to strike Syria, Corker said he thought Friday’s “surgical” strikes against Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons program were “appropriate.”

“But, look, we’ve had no strategy in Syria. Our nation has not had a strategy in Syria for a long time. One of the lowest moments in my foreign relations career here was when they crossed the red line in 2013 in August and we did nothing. The opposition had momentum. It was at a time when it would’ve made a huge difference. And, instead, we invited Russia in and, of course, they’ve taken the country over. The strategy for us and all western nations has been terrible in Syria. But today it would take almost our entire military to really try to shape things on the ground,” Corker said.

“So where I’m concerned is that we leave too soon before we’ve done the complete job with ISIS. And as you know, Turkey is really making life miserable for us and certainly for those Kurds who have given 4,000 lives to fight the fight for us, if you will, against ISIS.”

The chairman acknowledged that “many people here have cried out for years that we need to weigh in again” on the authorization for military force, “that we need a new AUMF.”

“I agreed with President Obama when he said he had all the authorities he needs. I agree with President Trump that the ’01/’02 [AUMFs] give them legal stand to pursue these terrorists,” he said.