tv U.S. Senate Sen. Graham Sen. Shaheen on Syria U.S. Troop Withdrawal CSPAN December 20, 2018 5:34am-6:06am EST
diplomatic and military official who has spoken about this publicly for the last two years, we made a decision for reasons that have not yet been explained that triggered, that triggered a series of events that no one foresaw at the time. but proved to be much more dangerous and much costly than anything we're doing there now. and so i honestly and sincerely hope that someone in the administration is listening and that there is a chance to reverse this or amend this decision before it is too late. mr. president, i yield the floor. a senator: mr. president. the presiding officer: the senator from south carolina is recognized. mr. graham: i ask unanimous consent to be recognized along with my colleague from new hampshire, senator shaheen relating to a colloquy on a resolution. the presiding officer: without objection. mrs. shaheen: mr. president. the presiding officer: the senator is recognized.
mrs. shaheen: i'm distressed to be on the floor of the senate today with my colleague, senator graham, to express our deep and profound disappointment in president trump's decision to withdraw u.s. troops from northeast syria. we had the opportunity to visit syria this summer, and we saw what a difference our troops made there in the fight against isis, in stabilizing northeast syria along the turkish border. we saw the response from the syrians we talked to, both the kurds and the arabs, as we drove along the road we saw children and people in the area flashing a victory sign at our troops. and you can see from this map the land that is controlled by the syrian democratic forces,
our partners in syria. this is the united states and the syrian democratic forces. we have a significant piece of syria that is now peaceful and stabilized, and isis has been thrown out of that part of syria. but the president's decision which was announced by a tweet is dangerous, premature, and wholly inconsistent with the facts on the ground in syria and our own military's advice. i was listening to senator rubio earlier today talking about what's the plan, what's the plan if we withdraw. well, i'll tell you what the plan is. there is no plan. there is no follow-on what are we going to do if we withdraw from syria. what we know is that the work of our combined joint task force operation inherent resolve and its partner forces, the syrian
democratic forces, is truly remarkable. again, we can see it. we can see it in this brown section of the country where we have control and there is peace and stability. senator graham and i, when we visited this summer, we went to mambidge which was controlled by isis for three years. we walked through the market there without any body armor, with no guards. we talked to people in that community about what life was like under isis. i talked to one woman who told me that she did not go out of her house in the entire time that isis controlled mambidge for three years. she went out of her house once to visit the doctor. we saw women strolling through the market. we saw children playing. we saw people who were happy to
be back in their own community, and they said to us please stay. we are worried about what will happen if the americans leave. we also went, flew over kavani up here on the turkish border. i remember all of the tv coverage of the fight for kabhani and what it looked like. and we could see it was being rebuilt not with money from the united states, but with money from the region. we could see all the building going on. and we flew over a center where they were holding some of the most dangerous foreign fighters that had been captured in the fight against isis, being held right here in kabhani. then we went down the ianisa
where we saw the dimps the democratic forces -- the difference the democratic forces made in helping to guard our outpost where our troops were stationed. we saw a detention facility where they were holding again fighters from syria who had fought for isis. then went over to al asaka where we saw a prison that was being built to hold the most dangerous of the foreign fighters. those foreign fighters who we don't know what will happen if we withdraw our troops. there will be nobody there to support the syrian democratic forces who are holding hundreds of those fighters. what happens? do they get released? do they come back to the united states? to europe, where they can engineer terrorist attacks? do they go back into the villages and restart another
terrorist group? there's no -- we don't know what's going to happen there because there is no follow-on plan. again, we heard from people everywhere we went, how important it was to have american troops stationed in syria. about 2,000 american troops who have made such a huge difference there, they serve as a vital shield against isis cells that are operating, still operating in northeast syria. and while the president claims that the threat of isis within syria has dispated, the conditions on the ground paint a very different picture. so working with our partners, we've achieved gains against isis. because we have partnered with the syrian democratic forces who are parliament -- who are partly curd, partly arab, and
if those syrian democratic forces lose the support of the united states, we run the risk of a resurgence of isis and the possible capitulation or all-out destruction of kurdish resistance in the region, and what does that mean? that means that those isis elements are emboldened. they may go underground but they may reemerge. if we don't remember history, we are destined to repeat it. and that's what happened in iraq. we left, al qaeda moved to syria, and they reemerged as an even bigger threat. if we leave, it's not at all clear what's going to happen. these are hard-fought gains that are critical to ensuring that we win the fight against terrorism in the middle east. if we leave, we are going to
cede influence in that region to russia, to iran, to assad. in fact, just moments after this decision was announced this morning, we heard the chair of russia's state duma, the chair of nature -- of their defense committee who said, and i'm quoting, u.s. plans in syria have failed. and he added that we, meaning the united states, had decided to make this move in order to avoid a shameful end. make no mistake, they are celebrating in moscow tonight after the president's announcement. just like they're celebrating in tehran tonight because of the president's announcement, because we are going to leave the field in syria to those countries who are aggressors against the united states.
i urge president trump to listen to his military and diplomatic advisors before he goes any further on this shortsighted decision. it's important to understand that u.s. leadership is essential to completely defeating isis and to bringing it into the violence in syria. it's also important to reassure our allies that america keeps its word, that when you partner with us, we are there to support you. if we leave now, what does that say to anybody else in the future who may want to partner with the united states on any conflict? it says you can't count on the united states because we may just pull out on you tomorrow, if the president suddenly thinks it's in his interest. not in the united states' interest, but in his interest to withdraw. this is a reckless decision and
it's undoubtedly going to have consequences for years to come for our military and for its ability to partner with others internationally. and the only person who's, the only ones who are going to benefit from this decision are our enemies. so i'm pleased to partner with senator graham on a resolution that would express the sense of the senate that we should not be withdrawing our troops from syria, that there is too much at stake here for us to take this reckless action and send the wrong message to our partners in the rest of the world. mr. president, i'm pleased to join my colleague, senator graham, and we will do everything we can to urge the president to reverse this reckless decision. mr. graham: i want to thank my colleague from new hampshire and maybe just ask a question. when we went to syria and iraq
together, did anyone in the military suggest to you that withdrawing in the foreseeable future was a good idea? mrs. shaheen: absolutely not. in fact, they talked about how pleased they were with the gamee partnership, with the s.d.f., with what they were seeing in terms of stabilizing those communities, people coming back to their homes, rebuilding, and how important it was for us to stay there. mr. graham: did they also not say that the syrian democratic forces were some of the best allies we've had since 9/11? mrs. shaheen: without a doubt. and we saw that firsthand, as you remember, when we saw them as sentries guarding our outpost, when we saw them in the communities, when we saw them in the dpengs facilities trying to abide by international standards with respect to the
foreign fighters they were guarding. it was very impressive. mr. graham: did anyone suggest to you that the war against isis in syria was over and had been won? mrs. shaheen: not at all. in fact, if we look at this map, we can see this orange color, that's one of the pockets that remains of isis right down in here. we have not yet eradicated isis. that doesn't account for some of the cells that still exist throughout this area. mr. graham: do you remember being told that thousands of isis fighters have gone back into the fabric of syria and they will reemerge under the right conditions? mrs. shaheen: absolutely. it's what we saw in iraq. gray gray i --. mr. graham: i want to say the following: this has been a long struggle. most americans, all things being equal, would like to get all of our troops home.
the mideast is a very complicated place. i share the president's desire to withdraw our forces when it makes sense. and as to the public at large, i want to stress to you that having been in the military for quite awhile, i'm very aware of the sacrifices required to go overseas and serve in iraq, syria, and afghanistan. i've come to conclude that a presence over there is still necessary to keep us safe here. now there's a division in this body about whether or not we should have a wall as part of border security. i think we need a wall as part of border security to secure our southern border. every democrat that's for border security would maybe have a different way of doing it. what i tried to tell the president with apparently very
little effect, that you're right to want to secure our border because drugs are coming across, criminals are coming across, and illegal immigrations are a problem for our country and securing the border is part of the is solution. but i told him that i don't know of any way to defend the nation from radical islam by building a wall. there is no law we can build between us and the forces of radical islam that reside in africa and the mideast, places like syria and iraq. and i tried to convey to him that our four deployed forces in partnership with others is a virtual wall. it is the best hope we have of stopping another 9/11, protecting ourselves and our allies, that a forward deployed presence gives us eyes and ears on the groundworking with others to protect the homeland and to destroy over time this scourge
called radical islam. the partnership between us and the syrian democratic forces which have been mostly kurds has been very successful. and i want to compliment my colleague from new hampshire for taking the floor and expressing a resolve to maintain a fairly small military footprint in syria and having connected that to our own national security interests. maybe the good news, if there is any from today, is that democrats and republicans, after 16, 17 years of looking at this war, beginning to come together, that troops are necessary sometimes in some places, that military action alone won't win the war, but it is certainly necessary. that partners are a good thing.
so i have come to conclude when it comes to the war on terrorism, i would rather fight it in the enemy's back yard than ours, and i would rather have partners than do it alone. so the decision today by the president -- and i think it was his alone -- i think is disastrous to our own national security and those 2,200 that senator shaheen talked about and the great job they have done, that by withdrawing them, we are basically taking a part of the law down and have now an open border policy when it comes to isis and syria. that the consequences of this decision make it far more likely there will be a corridor from tehran into iran, into hezbollah, and our presence there makes it more difficult for the iranians. as to who would be celebrating this decision, everybody that we hate likes what's going on.
the russians are up to no good all over the world, and their statement says everything you need to know about this decision. the only reason they're not dancing in tehran and isis camps is they just don't believe in dancing. they are as happy as they will ever be, and they are not into being happy. so to the president, you win the election, you beat me and many others. you have the right to make this decision, but the congress has the duty to hold you accountable. i wish we had done more of this in a bipartisan fashion than president obama drew from iraq. if i am nothing, i am consistent. i want this president to be successful. i will help him at every turn. generally speaking, i'm very pleased with his domestic and most of the time his foreign policy. i am shocked by this. i think this is a decision that is against sound military
advice. i intend to do our part as a congress to make sure that history records how this decision was made. there is a clear record that president obama's decision to withdraw from iraq and not leave the residual force proved to be wrong and was against military advice at that time. i have yet to find one person in the administration, the national security team that thinks this decision was a good decision. this was made against sound military advice, and i don't think general trump is going to be any better than general obama. i don't think general graham is the answer to this problem. i think those that are in the fight that have been doing it for 17 years, the national security team the president has, they're the experts. mr. president, if you don't like them or trust them, fire them. so what you have done, in my view, is set us back. the chatter out there is pretty
disturbing. i talked to general mattis today. it's pretty clear that the ripple effect of this is going to be as bad as we think it will be. to our kurdish partners, i am sorry. i don't support this decision, and i am hoping it will change. president president trump, leads about adjusting, being able to change your mind when circumstances warrant. i'm not saying we need to be in syria forever. i am saying now is not time to leave, and senator shaheen made a very compelling case about the conditions on the ground. so the winners, russia, iran, isis, and assad. the losers, the kurdish people who came to our aid when almost nobody would, the aishes who were spart of the -- the arabs who were part of the syrian democratic forces, they are big-time losers. i can only imagine what it's like tonight in menvich.
i saw in the eyes of the people that we were partnering with hope and trust. america's here, america's good. maybe our suffering is over. and when i look at the flag and the soldiers who wear it on their sleeve, we're not a perfect country, but we're a damn good country. what makes us a good people is that we do the hard thing. we're not the policemen of the world. i understand that. but we are the glue that holds this world together. we have betrayed our kurdish ally if this decision stands. if it's reversed, i will be the first one to applaud the president because that's true leadership. to those who say we have defeated isis and syria, that is
a -- an inaccurate statement. they have been hurt, they have been degraded. i give the president all the credit in the world for changing our policies regarding the fight against isis, but i will not buy into the narrative that they have been defeated in syria, iraq, and i just got back from afghanistan, haven't slept in two days. really appreciate the chance to go visit our troops and talk to our generals, but they sure as hell isis is not defeated in afghanistan. so to say they are defeated is an overstatement, and it's fake news. it is not true. they have been severely damaged, but they will come back unless we're there to stop them. and i don't intend to outsource our national security to any foreign power. and this idea that turkey is going to be the good guy, that
turkey's going to come in to syria and protect us against the rise of isis, that's just crazy. what turkey is going to do is unleash holy hell on the kurds. in the eyes of turkey, they are more of a threat than isis. so this decision is a disaster on multiple fronts, and i hope it can be changed. there is a resolution urging the president to make a withdrawal decision based on conditions on the ground after a vigorous interagency process. mr. president, i, too, want our troops to come home, but i don't want to tell the american people that we're secure when i don't believe we are. and what's odd is that the troops who are actually doing the fighting believe in this more than anybody. they were proud to be partners with the kurds.
most of them had been to iraq and afghanistan numerous times and were heartbroken when we left iraq and all the gains lost. and many of them wept back to the fight to take it yet again. so to the body who loves the troops, that's good. the american people respect our troops. if you truly love them, let them win. they are not asking to come home. they do this voluntarily. they understand why they're there. they understand the benefits of being there. so i know it must be tough as commander in chief to write a letter to the family of the fallen. i know that's a hard decision for any president to make to put people in harm's way, but i just want the president to understand the troops who do this embrace their mission, believe they are defending their nation, protecting their families they
accept the risk. and if we do follow through thi, i'm afraid americans all over the world here at home are going to be more at risk, not less. and i can't imagine winning this war without allies. and if this decision stands, i can't imagine being able to sign up many people in the future to serve with us to defeat enemies that threaten us after today. what hurts so much is to have been on the ground, see it get bad, see it get better, look into the eyes of the people who are willing to fight with us. see the hope they have that we're finally here. it hurts so much to know that everybody that we talked to in
menvich, many of them are going to get killed. they did the honorable thing to come to our aid to help destroy a common enemy of mankind, isis. we have been dishonorable. this is a stain on the honor of the united states. i hope and pray the president will reconsider this. i know that every national security advisor understands that the time is not right to withdraw, that the situation described by senator shaheen as to what will happen is more likely than not. if he does not decide to reconsider, then it will be incumbent upon the congress to speak and hold them accountable. so if you're concerned about today's decision as a member of the senate, please join this
resolution. it's very evenly worded. we all want the troops to come home, but we want to make sure they come home with honor and the conditions warrant them leaving right now. we are withdrawing in a dishonorable fashion. we're putting our own nation more at risk, and just as sure as i'm on the floor of the united states senate, isis will reemerge and all those who helped us are going to be in jeopardy. it will be harder to get allies in the future. and these 700 prisoners that were captured on the battlefield , we'll hear from them again. mrs. shaheen: will the senator yield for a question? mr. graham: yes. mrs. shaheen: you talk about
those 700 prisoners. a number of them foreign fighters, a number of them isis fighters from syria and iraq. what do you think will happen to those detainees who are being held by the syrian democratic forces if we withdraw and there is no support for what they're doing? mr. graham: well, one of two things will happen. number one, the syrian democratic forces had a very ethical view of treating prisoners. i was astonished at the compliance with law and their desire to -- to take their enemies and treat them better than they were treated. the jail was, quite frankly, very impressive. here's what's going to happen. they're going to shoot them or they're going to get out. if assad takes over before turkey gets there, they will kill everybody in the jail. so what does it matter if a bunch of isis fighters get killed? it's about us. once they're captured, it matters how we treat them. i want them tried. i want them held off the
battlefield. we're not executioners. but the most likely scenario is that isis reemerges and they break out. and i promised the president this, and i told president obama the same thing. if you will stick with it, and listen to the generals, no matter whether it hurts me or not, we will be with you. we'll give you the political support a republican can give a democrat to see this thing through. i promised the president one thing. i will help you where i can, but i'm going to hold you accountable. i'm going to do everything in my power, if you don't change this decision, to make sure you own it so the next president will learn from your mistakes.