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Senators Ask: What's the Strategy for Syria?

At a Senate Foreign Relations hearing today, senators seemed to be losing patience with the administration's stance on Syria, with both Republicans and Democrats saying that despite the administration officials' claims that Assad must go and the bloodshed must end, there didn't seem to be a strategy in place to make that happen.

The senators acknowledged that the progress made in destroying chemical weapons had been positive. But they pointed out that the chemical weapons deal still didn't answer the big questions surrounding the Assad regime.

"I want to support any and every diplomatic effort that is taking place," said Sen. Bob Corker, R- Tenn., the ranking Republican member on the committee. "But I think we ought to realize there is no strategy right now for the opposition - none."

The U.S. envoy for Syria, Ambassador Robert Ford, acknowledged that the opposition remained fractured, and that in some areas it was now fighting a war on two fronts, against the regime and against al Qaeda and extremist elements of the opposition who also want control. But Corker defended the administration's policy, saying that despite the troubling situation on the ground, focusing on a political solution is the only way to achieve long-term peace.

"We don't see a way for this to be solved militarily," said Ford. "In a civil war where communities think it's existential, that if they surrender they will be murdered, we have to build a political set of agreements between communities. Otherwise, the fighting goes on indefinitely."

Ford said the United States has provided support for the moderate armed rebels, including a delivery of trucks to the army, something that Gen. Salim Idris had asked for.

"We do provide support to help them against the regime. We provide a lot of support," said Ford. "You may discount what we do, but it matters to Salim Idris. Every time I talk to him, he thanks us for what we do. Would they like more? Of course they would. They'd like more from a lot of countries."

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.Y., lamented the fact that the Senate passed a law in May authorizing the United States to provide more support, including military, to the rebels but that the administration hadn't acted on it.

"I wish that the authorization that this committee passed back in May would have been used because at that time the dynamics were different, and I think we could have far better affected the efforts toward the negotiations that we still aspire to," said Menendez. "But the administration chose not to use that at the time."

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., delivered a blistering criticism of America's Syria policy, calling it "a shameful chapter in American history." McCain said he understood why Saudi Arabia had been publicly feuding with the United States over what it views as America's negligence.

"The reason the Saudis have divorced themselves from the United States of America is because of what you just articulated to Sen. Corker - trucks," he said to the U.S. envoy to Syria Ambassador Robert Ford. "That's a great thing, trucks, as shiploads of weapons come in to the Russian port, as plane load after plane load lands and provides weapons - all kinds of lethal weapons. And we're proud of the fact that we gave them trucks," he said.

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