September 16, 2015

Senator Corker Opening Statement at Hearing on "The U.S. Role and Strategy in the Middle East: Syria, Iraq, and the Fight against ISIS”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing
"The U.S. Role and Strategy in the Middle East: Syria, Iraq, and the Fight against ISIS”
Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) , Chairman
Opening Statement

Today’s hearing is the start of what will be a new series of hearings, examining the role of the United States in the Middle East.

This hearing will focus on the conflict in Syria and Iraq and the humanitarian crisis resulting from the sustained and unrelenting violence in the region.

Two of our witnesses today will address the war in Syria and Iraq, and Mr. Bowers will speak directly to the humanitarian effects of that war.

It is becoming more and more apparent that the administration’s stated goals in Syria of “defeating” ISIS and removing Assad are not aligned in any kind of clear, coherent strategy that we can realistically expect to achieve.

In Iraq, ISIS largely has maintained its ground since they took Ramadi last May.

And more than four years into the war in Syria, as the administration continues to fumble for a strategy -and I think that’s apparent by all -the devastating effects of the war are starting to confront us in the form of a refugee crisis.

I join many of my colleagues in the desire for the United States to play our appropriate role with respect to the refugee crisis.

But we would be remiss to focus solely on a humanitarian response without addressing the root cause of this crisis; the Assad regime and his Iranian and Russian backers.

We have had multiple witnesses today testify before this Committee that after the conclusion of the Iran deal, the United States would need to prove we are serious about pushing back against Iran’s regional actions.

I know the ranking member and others on the committee are steadfast in wanting to make sure that we end up with a Middle East policy that’s not just the Iran Nuclear Deal, if you will, being the default position. And I appreciate our ranking member for his concern in that way.

Many have said that the place to do that, in particular, is in Syria.

As Russia flies weapons and troops over Iraq and into Syria – establishing a greater presence – American leadership continues to be tested.

A failing strategy in Iraq has led to Iranian backed militias overshadowing U.S. military support.

In Syria, thousands continue to die at the hands of Assad and his backers and millions of civilians have fled the country.

Without defined, committed engagement to counter destabilizing actions in the region, the need for American involvement will continue to grow as conditions deteriorate.

Against the backdrop of unprecedented turmoil in the Middle East, we have just concluded a nuclear agreement with Iran that again alters the balance of power in the region.

We have all heard from our allies in the region about their fear of American disengagement, and we cannot ignore that the lack of coherent American leadership has left a vacuum that will continue to be filled by violence. And again, I think almost everyone in this committee is committed to pushing, at least pushing the administration towards having a coherent strategy that doesn’t allow that to continue.

I hope our witnesses can help us understand what policies the United States should be seeking in Syria and Iraq, and what is needed to achieve those goals.

I want to thank you all, again, for appearing before our committee. We look forward to your testimony. And without any objection your written testimony will become a part of the record.

And with that I look forward to our distinguished ranking member’s comments, a great partner, someone I cherish working with and I look forward to working with on this issue.

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