Washington – Sen. Chris Murphy on Saturday had some of Capitol Hill’s harshest criticism of U.S. airstrikes on Syria, calling them “illegal,” and counterproductive, leading to more attacks by Bashar al-Assad on the Syrian people and “a bloodier, more brutal war.”
Other Connecticut lawmakers were more supportive of the strikes, but called on the White House to seek authorization from Congress for further military action and devise a “comprehensive” strategy on Syria.
Murphy’s criticism of President Donald Trump’s decision to strike Syrian targets Friday night was based both on the military strategy of the operation and on the president’s failure to secure approval from Congress for the attacks.
“The precedent that Trump has set by taking out another large-scale strike without prior public debate should scare every member of Congress and every American,” said Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “President Trump’s strikes are illegal. He does not have authorization to take military action against Syria…What restrains Trump from launching an attack on North Korea without getting congressional authorization if he gets away with this attack on Syria?”
The U.S. airstrikes, launched in coordination with France and the United Kingdom, followed a week of threats by Trump of retaliation for an alleged chemical weapons attack on civilians by the Assad regime. They occurred a year after the United States hit Syria with an airstrike in response to a similar attack on Syrian civilians.
Trump on Saturday tweeted he was pleased with the U.S. airstrikes, saying “Mission Accomplished,” a phrase President George W. Bush’s used in a 2003 speech announcing an end to major combat operations in Iraq, a phrase that former president said later was “a mistake.”
“A perfectly executed strike last night. Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military. Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!” Trump said.
A short while later, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the United States is ready to keep pressure on Syria.
In a statement, Murphy said, “Time has proven that ‘surgical’ airstrikes, like the one launched by President Trump last night, have no deterrent effect on Assad, and instead, most likely quicken the pace of his assault on his own people.”
“President Trump should read up on early days of the Vietnam war, when U.S. leaders were sure that airstrikes, along with a small presence of ground troops, would cause the North Vietnamese to end their assault on the South and come to the negotiating table,” Murphy said.
Murphy said the United States should “complete its mission against ISIS in Syria” and pull back its military effort, participating in diplomatic efforts to end the war instead.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal was also critical of Trump’s policy toward Syria.
“This strike lacks a coherent strategy, sending a message without real effect on Assad’s war capability,” said Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “A military response to Assad’s brutal use of chemical weapons was well-merited, but President Trump must come to Congress, and set forth a consistent strategic path forward.”
Blumenthal said “robust diplomatic, economic, and humanitarian efforts,” must accompany a U.S. military campaign against Assad.
“The Trump Administration has essentially slammed the door in the face of refugees fleeing Assad’s war crimes,” Blumenthal said. “Turning our back on children and families desperately seeking refuge is a shameful affront to our shared American values.”
Most congressional Democrats said one night of airstrikes was not a substitute for a comprehensive U.S. strategy on Syria. They also called on the White House to seek congressional authorization for military action.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, called the airstrikes “a timely and targeted response to the Assad regime’s violation of international law.”
But DeLauro also said “it is imperative that President Trump work with Congress to develop a clear strategy on Syria, and that Congress fulfills its Constitutional responsibility to debate any further use of military force.”
Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, lauded the Navy for executing “a precise, laser-focused strike with great competence and skill.”
But Courtney also said “from this point on, the Trump administration needs to consult with Congress on what the overall strategy in Syria will be, a question that is far from clear and one I raised with [Secretary of Defense James Mattis] this past Wednesday during a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.
Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, commended Trump “for working with our allies to conduct swift action to punish such heinous crimes against humanity.”
“However, any military action is tantamount to an act of war, and Congress bears a constitutional responsibility to address the administration’s authorities before any further decisions are made,” Larson said.
Like other Democrats, Larson called for House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to bring up legislation that would define and limit the military action the Trump administration used in Syria.
Meanwhile, most Republicans gave their full support to Trump’s action.
“The United States has taken decisive action in coordination with our allies,” Ryan said. “We are united in our resolve that Assad’s barbaric use of chemical weapons cannot go unanswered.”