tv U.S. Senate Sen. Rubio on Syria U.S. Troop Withdrawal CSPAN December 20, 2018 5:11am-5:35am EST
i want to be clear, as i've tried to be all day, about this. i believe this is it is a catastrophic mistake that will have grave consequences for the united states, for our interests and our allies in the months and years to k i wanted to make -- to come. i wanted to take a moment to come here and explain y the rationale we were given today by the administration is that there is no longer a need for a u.s. presence in syria because isis has been defeated. but just a week ago the president's own envoy to the global coalition on isis said this, and i want to get to from his statement that he gave last week. he said, the end of isis will be a much more long-term initiative. nobody is declaring mission accomplished. we know that once the physical space is defeated, we can't just pick upped and leave. this was a quote from the president's own envoy to the global coalition on isis, not six months ago. six days ago. and we don't have time here --
or i could take up all the time of the senate to outline statement after statement after statement from military and diplomatic officials in the administration basically echoing the same point. and the point that we're make something this -- isis still controls territory, particularly in the ufrayties river valley of syria and from the territory new england still control, they generate money and they control the population and they produce propaganda individual. and even if that is taken away, isis is on its way to turning into an insurgency, meaning no longer an organization that controls vast spaces of land or has a capital city. an insurgency like we what we saw in iraq, an insurgency like what al qaeda used to operate like and continues to operate like. and insurgencies in many ways are harder to defeat because they don't wave a plague and tell you where -- wave a flag and tell you where they are.
i'm not here to deny that there hasn't been true progress made against isis. there absolutely has. when you look at what isis had, what isis controlled when this administration began and where they are today, this has been a substantial achievement. but we have to finish the job, and the job is not finished. and why has isis' presence in syria been degraded? it is because the united states, with a very limited military presence -- we're not talking afghanistan here it tens of thousands of troops. we're not talking iraq here with a massive urge. we are talking about a very capable but lightfootprint of american trainers and people there to assist, although they can fight and have done so in the past, working alongside a ground force made up of the syrian democratic forces, primarily air abc, and the -- air be as, and the -- and the
arabs. and they have been on the ground fighting with our assistance and our direction and sometimes our direct involvement against isis in the ufray tees river value chicago. they are the reason why isis' control has rapidly degraded. but that's right ones fighting. that has been a difficult thing to achieve because the number-one objective of the kurds to protect kurdish cities and towns in northernia. ness a long-standing -- there is a long-standing dispute between the kurds and turkey. there is a kurd organization in turkey and there is one affiliated with them housed in northern syria in cities that are kurdish cities. the number-one priority is maintaining their cities and getting them to actually take time out from that interest and confront isis was not easy. it has been an enormous achievement to partner and collocate with them in fighting and degrading isis in that area.
but as i said, it has not been easy because isis is not their top priority their number-one priority is maintaining control of the kurdish towns and cities in northern syria and, more importantly, preventing turkey and the turkish military from taking it from them. so they've been threatening to pull out of this isis effort for a long time, most recently when erdogan went around saying i'm coming in. i'm going after the kurds in syria. we know if in a happened, many would abandon the fight on isis and immediate lay be pulled into defending the kurdish seas. but now that we're pulling out, now that we're retreating, adonning this effort -- abandoning this effort, i can guarantee you that the kurdish forces are going to leave. they are going back to the kurdish areas to prepare to confront thish military -- the turkish military activity that they have announced and that
could be coming at any moment. that means that there will no longer be anyone on the ground in the eupmrates river valley attacking isis. now the pressure is off from isis. now they can really regroup. now this is going to give them an enormous propaganda victory as they take more and more victory. they're going to brag about it and it will help them recruit more fighters and resurrect themselves. it will give them more territory, more access to money. all that have is going to allow them to expand their insurgency plan. they are going to have more people, more money, and more territory to do it from because the kurds are going to leave. now that we're leaving, they are leaving and no one will be fighting isis on the ground in the valley. in fact, isis might even be able to restart its specialized military training in that area. we are allowing isis to come
back and before long we are all going to be talking about isis again producing videos, kidnapping people, beheading people, taking territory, terrorizing people and doing it as an insurgency, which is even harder to fight, as i said earlier. so why is this happening? who are the winners here of all this? let me tell you, i think the one winner here has been erdogan. he has absolutely played us on this. it's truly stung. he has spent months pressuring the united states to abandon the kurds, diplomatically in phone calls to the president, to others. he's spent months and he's been doing that pressure on the one side while also threatening military action on the other. in essence saying, i'm coming into syria, the turks, and i'm going after the y.p.g., the kurds, and i know u.s. troops are embedded alongside them. we're coming in. he has been doing this for months. the goal it the whole time was to separate the united states from the kurds, to get us to
break up this arrangement that we had with them to fight isis. it worked. he has achieved it. it's truly unbelievable that he has been able to get us to back down. and i want everyone to think about this additional complication. turkey is a member of nato, and article 5 of nato basically says, if a nato member is attacked, you all have to come to their defense. an attack on all of us. while there is some wiggle room, the bottom line is that the turks have in the past threatened to invoke article 5. think about this for a moment. think about if after being attacked, the kurds both in turkey and in syria decide to fight back. turkey is going to say, we're under attack from kurdish forces in the y.p.g.. we invoke article 5. i want you to think about what position that now puts the united states in. we now have a choice. we can stand behind our article 5 commitment to nato, but if we
do so, we are going to have to help defeat the turks -- meaning kill -- the very people that we were just collocated with today and yesterday and for months, the very people we have been working with to defeat isis for over two and a half years, are now people that if we follow article 5 invoked by turkey, we're going to have to join them to try to defeat -- meaning kill. the other alternative is to not respect article 5 and not come to their defense. then you have placed the entire nato alliance in doubt because it will have been invoked for the second time in history and the u.s. didn't respond to it. we lose either way. we either help them kill the kurds, our partners as recently as today, or we ignore article 5. that sounds pretty dramatic, and there's some wiggle room as to what the response will be, but erdogan is the kind of hard
ballplayer to trigger this sort of response and he has threatened to do it in the past. truly unbelievable. who is the other big winner? russia. in fact, their embassy in the u.s. has already put out a tweet, celebrating the decision. why? well, first of all, because america is now out. at some of the point people are going to have to sit down and decide, what is the future of a post isis syria and you know who is going to be at the table? the turks are going to be at the table because they'll have a military presence in northern syria. the iranians will be in syria. assad have been at the table and putin will be at the table t guess who won't be at the table? the united states of america. and so vladimir putin, of course he is celebrating this decision, because america basically walked away, gave up its seat at the table. we have no presence there any longer and we have just turned over this country and its future and its meaning in the region to vladimir putin and iran and assad.
another reason why putin is a big winner is because you can just imagine those meetings now. when putin goes to the middle east and meets with the egyptians and the saudis and jordanians, frankly even the israelis, us know what he's going to say? i don't know why you are counting on america. i don't know why you are relying on america. they are unreliable. vladimir putin is going to say, look at me. i stood by assad, even after the whole world came after him. i stood by him. i didn't retreat. look at america. they abandoned these kurds to be slaughtered by the turks and maybe by the regime, and you are going to put the future and security of your country in the hands of an unreliable and erratic partner like the united states? it is a huge victory for putin in that regard. and, by the way, put yourself in the position of the kurds, facing an onslaught from the turkish military. you have now given them two kois. they can partner up with russia
as their protector against turkey or they can partner up with the regime and iran. that's the choice we've left them with. who's the other bigger winner in all this is iran and hezbollah. for a long time assad has allowed iran to use syria as a transit point to arm hezbollah in lebanon so lebanon can threaten and attack israel. they will now be able to step up those efforts. there is no u.s. presence in syria. there is no u.s. seat at the table. and you can fully expect that iran is going to step up their engagement in syria with hezbollah. let me tell you why that's a problem. i'll get to that in a moment. it has to do with israel. but here's the bottom line. you can fully expect now that iran is going to step up its own presence through the irgc and through hezbollah and through the militias they have empowered in the region right on the border with israel. iran now has the ability to put
weaponry and killers right across the golan heights, right on the border with israel. the other big winner in all of this of course is hezbollah. as i said, they now have expanded their area and their supply realm. i'd be remiss if i didn't mention that with all this talk of isis there is still an al qaeda presence in syria. they can change their name all they want. it's al qaeda. they have operatives in syria, and al qaeda spends a lot of time planning external operations. we thank or men and women in homeland security, in the military, in our security systems and intelligence systems for protecting us, but al qaeda spends all day long plotting and thinking about how to strike the united states around the world and here in the homeland. and the lack of a u.s. presence in syria means that the syrian branch of al qaeda hora al dean has the ability to operate in a
space that's even more desirable than what they have today. the last winner in all this, it's surprising because you may say what does it have to do with syria is china. you have all these countries in asia who see this sort of growing conflict between the u.s. and china, and they're trying to figure out how do we stay out of this fight, but if we're forced to pick which side do we pick and they prefer us. we're more reliable and capable, we believe in human rights. but china in those meetings is going to say america is a power in decline. america is unreliable. america is erratic, the same argument putin is going to use in the middle east and europe is the argument china is going to use all over the world. those are the implications of these kinds of decisions. they will increasingly go to places like japan and south korea and others and say do you really want to put all your eggs in the american basket because
they are an unreliable ally. look what the they did to the kurds in syria. of course there are losers, and obviously israel in this part is one of them. the statement from the prime minister of israel is pretty telling. he said it's an american decision. i'm not going to interfere with it. but we are going to do whatever it takes to protect our interests in this area. translation: they're going to step up their attacks. they're already conducting strikes inside of israel. every time they see a dangerous rocket system moving towards hezbollah, any time something that looks like it could threaten israel from syria they're going to step up. as those efforts increase they're going to have to get more aggressive. they are going to have to kill iranians eventually and the iranians and hezbollah will respond. they will probably eventually respond by vast rockets from
lebanon and israel will have to respond to that and suddenly we have the next israel-lebanon war. now hezbollah has more rockets, better rockets with longer range and precision in their guidance. even if if israel has this incredible defense system it can be overwhelmed by volume. such a small country. and what do you think is going to happen when population centers in israel cannot be protected from these attacks? israel is going to respond as they always have had to in their self-defense with disproportionate force and we're going to have an all-out war potentially between israel versus iran and hezbollah. and who knows where that leads. but i assure you, the united states is going to be called upon to help in that regard at a minimum by supplying israel and maybe more. who -- this is not a game. this is serious repercussions if you think forward about what could happen next and how
quickly this could destabilize the region and how quickly the pullout of a small american presence could lead to a much larger one down the road. ultimately israel is an enormous loser here because by the united states retreating we have given the green light for iran to expand its presence right on their border. this is the closest, other than lebanon and hezbollah this is the closest iran has been to israeli territory. think about it. you're israel with problems in judea and samaria with palestinian authority, iewfer got issues in gaza, hezbollah in p lebanon and now iran with a growing presence just north of syria. you are encircled. this is the predicament that this helps create. by far the biggest loser in this deven is the united states of america. we have lost -- we have surrendered our influence in the outcome of this conflict in syria. at some point nations are going to sit down and figure out what syria looks like moving
forward, and we will have zero role to play in it. it will be decided by the turks and the russians and primarily the iranians and assad and we will have no role to play in it. we have also undermined other nations' trust in the reliability of the american alliance and the implications of that are extraordinary. if you think about the world today and nations like japan, south korea and saudi arabia and egypt, these are countries that either can immediately or may in the future decide that they need nuclear weapons to protect themselves. south korea from north korea. japan from china. saudi arabia from iran. egypt from iran. and the reason why many of these countries have been willing not to develop nuclear weapons is because the united states has in the case of south korea and japan, directly assured their security. and that has kept the peace. what happens when more and more nations develop weapons of mass destruction the way india and
pakistan have about each other? you have more weapons of mass destruction. and then it creates the possibility of miscalculation or even worse, that a government, for example, in saudi arabia or in egypt is overthrown and some radical regime takes hold and they have nuclear weapons. or they proliferate and sell it to people and that's used. this is far-fetched for some people. this is reality. this is how foreign policy should be made. not just thinking about what's in front of you today, but what could happen in the chain of events that could be triggered by a decision. this is not a game. this is serious stuff. and on top of all that, losing the trust of our allies and nations around the world, losing our influence in a solution in syria, isis is going to reemerge. it's not going to be the same isis that it was before controlling vast amount of territory. but i'll tell you what, al qaeda never controlled a vast amount of territory and operating from caves and
hideouts throughout the middle east, they carried out 9/11 and other threats against the united states in the homeland that were thwarted. isis is going to reemerge now. they're once again going to be able to recruit people. they're going to have an insurgency that's going to be able to strike and perhaps externally plot. they're going to be able from that presence they have in syria to influence their affiliates everywhere from the philippines to central africa to other countries in the region. and that's why i'm here to tell you that this is a catastrophic decision. forget for a moment about no one being notified, it was just announced at the last minute. i haven't heard a single member of the administration, not one, not the secretary of defense, not the secretary of state. who is going to own this decision? who is willing to step forward and tell the american people or congress here's why we're making this decision, and here is the strategy?
someone explain that. the american people deserve to know it. i haven't heard that today. we haven't heard it before. we thought we had the outlines of some strategy here. all that has been taken away. why are we doing this? what is the rationale and what comes next? and what's the plan to keep isis from reemerging? and what's the plan to keep iran from growing its presence in southern syria and threatening israel? and what's the plan to deal with the al qaeda element that already exists in there and what's our role and what role are we going to play in a postisis and postal qaeda syria? and particularly as it relates to whether it can be used as a base of operations against our interests in our men and women in uniform stationed in the region. none of that has been outlined. the -- is anyone in the administration going to own this and explain it because so far we haven't heard it, and this is a n important public policy decision. i hope i'm wrong about all of this.
i hope it all works out but it's not going to. i'm telling you, these are the kinds of decisions that define presidencies. these are the kinds of mistakes that end up haunting a nation for years and years and years thereafter. it is the lesson, the hard lesson of iraq. it is the hard lesson of decisions made at other times in our history. i hope this can be reversed. i hope that this can be reexamined because i honestly believe -- put politics aside. i honestly believe that this is a catastrophic decision for america's national security interests. and if this stands, we in this congress and we as a nation are going to be dealing with the consequences of it for years to come and we'll remember this day as the day that started it all. we'll remember this day as a major blunder in which by ignoring the advice of every
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: t