WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today joined CNN New Day to discuss the ramifications of U.S. missile strikes in Syria.

“The situation in Syria is complex and dangerous,” said Senator Coons. “First, this is not the time to significantly cut our investment in diplomacy and development and humanitarian aid, because navigating our way through the very complex crises in Syria and Iraq is going to be difficult and expensive, and if we're not prepared for a diplomatic solution and a development solution, once we retake the cities of Mosul and Raqqa, then we're simply going to repeat some of the mistakes of the past.

“[I]f you're going into a big fight, bring some big friends,” said Senator Coons. “So, continuing to close the gaps created with our vital allies in NATO and across Europe by President Trump's irresponsible statements as a candidate is urgent work to be done by members of Congress, by members of the administration, and by our senior diplomats.

“President Trump needs to come to Congress and work with us to get an authorization for the use of military force so that we're doing our job under the Constitution and clarifying what we've approved going into in Syria, to do so requires a strategy. We need to hear a strategy - it may get you a great bump in the polls, it may be brush back Xi Jinping and the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, it may push back on Assad for a few days or weeks to launch a bunch of cruise missiles, but that's not the same thing as having a strategy,” said Senator Coons. “We need to work out a strategy and we need to do our job and authorize this use of force.”

Full audio and video available here. 

Excerpts from the interview:

Senator Coons on Syria: Well, I do think it was appropriate for there to be forceful and prompt action against Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons once again against his own people. We've just passed the sixth anniversary of this brutal war by Assad against his own people. More than 400,000 Syrians have died and millions have been turned into refugees either within their own country, the region, or the rest of the world. But, the next steps are going to be exceptionally difficult. 

Senator Coons on whether the U.S. would turn a blind eye if Assad utilized barrel bombs: I disagree with that statement. It's because of the chemical weapons convention that many around the world have condemned Assad's use of chemical weapons against his own people, but I don't really see the difference. Dropping a barrel bomb on a school or a hospital, or on a refugee camp as he's done is every bit as heinous as using chemical weapons. Bashar al-Assad 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. And, I'll remind you the Trump administration and his senior leadership as recently as two weeks ago 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. The situation in Syria is complex and dangerous. A few simple points here if I might. First, this is not the time to significantly cut our investment in diplomacy and development and humanitarian aid, because navigating our way through the very complex crises in Syria and Iraq is going to be difficult and expensive, and if we're not prepared for a diplomatic solution and a development solution, once we retake the cities of Mosul and Raqqa, then we're simply going to repeat some of the mistakes of the past. Second, if you're going into a big fight, bring some big friends. So, continuing to close the gaps created with our vital allies in NATO and across Europe by President Trump's irresponsible statements as a candidate is urgent work to be done by members of Congress, by members of the administration and by our senior diplomats. Last, President Trump needs to come to Congress and work with us to get an authorization for the use of military force so that we're doing our job under the Constitution and clarifying what we've approved going into in Syria, to do so requires a strategy. We need to hear a strategy - it may get you a great bump in the polls, it may be brush back Xi Jinping and the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, it may push back on Assad for a few days or weeks to launch a bunch of cruise missiles, but that's not the same thing as having a strategy. We need to work out a strategy and we need to do our job and authorize this use of force.

Senator Coons on what he would be willing to authorize: First, we've got hundreds of Americans on the ground engaged in the fight against ISIS. I've been saying for years, as have other members of the Foreign Relations Committee, Democrats and Republicans, that we need an AUMF and a strategy against ISIS. That's the war we're actively engaged in. 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. As we take more action against Assad, his supporters, Iran and Russia, may well take action against Americans in the battlefield and so the strategy for what we're doing, we need to take that into account. 

More on Assad: First, I think Assad is a war criminal, and we need a path to getting him removed. But, because we have allowed Russia to take a significant role in his defense, there is no path toward the removal of Assad without intense negotiations and clarity with Russia about what our intentions are. So, first, the Trump administration needs to make up its own mind, President Trump needs to decide how far he is willing to go to push Russia and Iran. At some point, international pressure will succeed in persuading Putin that clinging to Assad, defending Assad, is not in his strategic, long-term best interest. 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 so my hope is that Secretary of State Tillerson who is meeting with the foreign minister of Russia in Moscow today is beginning that process, clarifying what our red lines are and what we are willing to do with Russia in terms of sanctions on Syria or on Russia, in terms of building an international coalition to ratchet up the pressure on Assad. 

Senator Coons on U.S. Navy strike group heading towards Korean peninsula: Well, I think the major audience that Trump had in mind for his missile strike was sitting right next to him this weekend at Mar-A-Lago, President Xi Jinping of China, was meeting with President Trump to talk about North Korea. And while it's important for China to take more ownership of the problem of North Korea's nuclear weapons program, that's going to take time. And saber-rattling against North Korea is probably not going to resolve that situation in the next couple of weeks. Again, this is exactly the wrong time to significantly cut our investment in diplomacy. 

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