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Some in GOP call for clearer Syria strategy, while expressing support for strikes

"Assad has likely calculated a limited American strike is just the cost of doing business," Sen. Lindsey Graham said.
by Dennis Romero /  / Updated 
Image: U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, shown in 2017, expressed reservations about the U.S.-led airstrikes on Syria. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images file

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U.S.-led airstrikes against Syria in response to its alleged use of chemical weapons were widely welcomed by Republicans, but some GOP senators and representatives said that missiles are not enough and called for a clearer strategy.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has broken with President Donald Trump on issues in the past, said that he hoped Friday night’s strikes imposed a "meaningful cost" on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the suspected chemical attack in Douma that killed dozens on April 7.

But McCain said that "we need a comprehensive strategy for Syria and the entire region" and that "the president needs to lay out our goals, not just with regard to ISIS, but also the ongoing conflict in Syria and malign Russian and Iranian influence in the region."

"Airstrikes disconnected from a broader strategy may be necessary, but they alone will not achieve U.S. objectives in the Middle East," McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement Friday.

Trump announced the airstrikes against Syria in an address to the nation on Friday night, saying the purpose was "to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons."

The strikes, conducted with France and the United Kingdom, involved 105 weapons which were deployed against three targets, officials said. The Pentagon said the targets of the strikes included a Syrian research and development center in greater Damascus, a storage facility and a chemical weapons bunker west of Homs.

But Trump has made statements on the U.S. role in Syria, which is gripped by a brutal seven-year civil war estimated to have killed upward of 500,000 people and displaced millions, which has at times conflicted with administration officials. Trump this month expressed his desire to get U.S. troops out of Syria, but then agreed to keep troops there in a decision that a senior administration official characterized as reluctant.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in a statement on Saturday said "President Trump deserves credit for working with our allies and ordering this strike against Assad" and called Assad "a ruthless butcher who has murdered hundreds of thousands of Syrians and should be considered a war criminal."

But Graham also expressed doubts that the strikes would have a lasting impact and criticized what he said was an administration that has a strategy "to withdraw from Syria as quickly as possible."

"I fear that when the dust settles this strike will be seen as a weak military response and Assad will have paid a small price for using chemical weapons yet again," Graham said. "Assad has likely calculated a limited American strike is just the cost of doing business."

"Ignoring the situation in Syria, simply saying — Not Our Problem — was a losing strategy when President Obama adopted it five years ago. And it’s a losing strategy still today," he said.

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., said in a statement Friday that "these latest actions need to be part of a comprehensive strategy that secures lasting peace in Syria."

Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the U.S. was justified in taking "limited action" in order to hold Assad accountable, but said the committee would hold a hearing next week on U.S. policy for the region.

"Military force cannot be the only means of responding to these atrocities," Royce said. “The U.S. must leverage strong diplomacy and serious financial pressure."

House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also expressed support for the U.S. strikes. Ryan said in a statement that "the United States and our allies must continue to seek ways to hold Assad’s enablers accountable."

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