Sen. Sessions: 'A Wise Statesman Would Have Seen the Danger in Syria'

Susan Jones | September 23, 2016 | 8:40am EDT
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Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) questions Defense Secretary Ash Carter at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016. (Screen capture from video posted by the committee)

( - Five years after President Obama announced that "the time has come for President Assad to step aside," Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday that he does not expect the Syrian president to leave power any time soon.

Meanwhile, U.S. efforts to arrange a pause in Syria's civil war fell apart, even as Dunford and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter addressed the committee.

According to the Associated Press, the bombing campaign in rebel-held districts of Syria's Aleppo city intensified Friday, as the government announced a new offensive in the area.

At Thursday's hearing, Sen. Jeff Sessions called the situation in Syria a "colossal disaster" that a "wise statesman" would have foreseen.

"It hasn't developed like President Obama projected, and disaster has been the situation," Sessions told the committee. He asked Defense Secretary Carter about the U.S. goal in Syria:

"The goal of the United States policy in Syria is to end the Syrian civil war," Carter responded. "It has been that for a long time. And that means an end to the violence there and also a political transition from Assad to a government that includes a moderate opposition and that can run the country. Our approach has been a political one--"

Sessions interrupted: "It seems to me that the problem is, that with our support, ISIS is being damaged but they're not utterly destroyed. If some sort of peace agreement is reached, some sort of cease-fire, and the United States and others reduce our presence there, can you assure us that ISIS -- the toughest, meanest group in Syria -- won't be able to destabilize any government that might be put together?"

Carter didn't answer the question. Instead, he told Sessions that the U.S. counter-ISIL campaign is not part of the U.S.-Russian discussions regarding a pause in the Syrian civil war. He said Secretary of State Kerry is trying to end the humanitarian disaster caused by the civil war and bring about a political transition.

"I believe we could have done a better job with safe zones," Sessions interrupted Carter. "We need an active American policy -- a leadership in the world, but we cannot establish all these governments and run them and assure how they'll come out in the end. And we can't occupy these countries for decades to try to assure that. That's just not realistic.

"A wise statesman would have seen the danger in Syria," Sessions told Carter. "A wise statesman would have seen the danger in Libya. A wise statesman should have seen what could have happened in Egypt. And except for 30 million Egyptians going to the public square and driving out the Muslim Brotherhood, we could have had a disaster there.

"We've got to be more realistic in our foreign policy," Sessions continued. "We've got to know what we can do to affect positively the world, and what we cannot do. And we're not able to ensure democratic government throughout this region of the world, and we're now facing a colossal humanitarian disaster, and it's been bubbling for a number of years, and there's no easy solution to get out of it. I wish it were, but there's not."

The Associated Press noted on Friday that the "intense bombing" that erupted in Aleppo this week came as diplomatic efforts failed to salvage a ceasefire that lasted nearly a week, “before giving way to a new level of violence.”

"Residents and activists say the bombing, which began in earnest late Wednesday night, has been unprecedented, targeting residential areas, infrastructure and civil defense centers. Some streets have been closed off because of piles of rubble," the AP reported.

"The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least seven civilians, including three children, were killed in about 30 raids that began overnight (Friday). A member of the city's forensic team, Mohammed Abu Jaafar, said he had documented nine deaths since late Thursday, including five women and two children. Abu Jaafar said it was impossible to document casualties and injuries Friday because of the intensity of the bombing.

A Syrian military official was quoted as saying that the airstrikes and shelling in Aleppo might continue for an extended period and the operation will expand into a ground invasion of rebel-held districts. The unnamed military official was quoted by Syrian state media as saying that operations in rebel-held eastern parts of the city, 'will include a ground offensive.'"

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