While Trump threatens Iran and Venezuela, 400 Congress members, including leaders from both parties, want to intensify the eight-year war on Syria, to weaken Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah.
(May 24, 2019) — While the Donald Trump administration is threatening two new wars on Iran and Venezuela, a substantial majority of the US Congress is clamoring for more immediate action.
Nearly 400 Congress members from both chambers — roughly 75 percent of all federal US lawmakers — have signed an open letter calling on President Trump to escalate the war in Syria, in the name of countering Iran, Russia, and Lebanese Hezbollah.
Top Democratic Party leaders have joined hawkish Republicans in a bipartisan demand that the far-right president “address threats in Syria” and “demonstrate American leadership in resolving the prolonged conflict.”
They hope to do this through more US intervention, implementing a three-pronged “Syria strategy”: one, “augment our support” for Israel and maintain its “qualitative military edge”; two, “increase pressure on Iran and Russia”; and, three, “increase pressure on Hezbollah.”
While the letter stops short of openly requesting more American troops inside Syria, it clearly states that the US should take more aggressive actions. It also expressly calls on the Trump White House to punish Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah with crippling sanctions.
Among the signatories are 2020 Democratic presidential candidates Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Cory Booker. (The full list can be found here (PDF file) and is also included below.)
The letter was notably not signed by Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Tulsi Gabbard, both 2020 Democratic presidential candidates who are running left-wing, anti-war campaigns.
The Congressional call does not even feign concern for the humanitarian situation of Syrians, or make any pretense of supporting the “Syrian people.” Rather, it is entirely framed within a chauvinistic perspective of expanding American power, protecting Israel, and weakening “US adversaries.”
The letter fearmongers about the presence of Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah in Syria, all of which are fighting in alliance with Syria’s internationally recognized government, which sits at the United Nations, and which has requested their support.
The bipartisan document claims that the “region has also been destabilized by Iranian regime’s threatening behavior,” adding that “Russia’s destabilizing role only complements that of Iran,” and that “Hezbollah now poses a more potent threat to Israel as well.”
The Democratic chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Eliot Engel, and the Republican chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, James Risch, helped to lead the letter campaign.
It was also signed by Democratic Party leaders Chuck Schumer and Dianne Feinstein and Hillary Clinton loyalists such as Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Tim Kaine. Russiagate figurehead Adam Schiff lent his name, along with neoconservative Republicans like Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton, and Ted Cruz. Republican white nationalist Rep. Steve King’s name also appeared on the letter.
Even some Democrats who have been outspoken opponents of the US-Saudi war on Yemen like Senator Chris Murphy and Representative Ted Lieu were signatories.
The letter goes on to express “deep concern” about “pockets of ungoverned space have allowed terrorist groups, such as ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and their affiliates, to keep parts of Syria in their stranglehold.”
Left unacknowledged in the congressional letter is the way that US intervention in Syria in fact fueled the spread of these extremist groups. The multi-billion-dollar arm-and-equip program — the largest since the CIA’s covert war in Afghanistan in the 1980s — funneled weapons to ISIS and Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, the biggest affiliate of the Salafi-jihadist group since 9/11.
The letter reflects the national security state’s perpetual feedback loop, where US military intervention fuels extremist groups, and then the strength and persistence of these extremist groups is in turn used to justify further US military intervention to fight them.
The Trump White House’s Growing Threats against Iran
The US Congress is often a site of bipartisan belligerence. In 2018, not a single member of the legislature opposed the Trump administration’s imposition of sanctions on Nicaragua’s leftist government.
The latest missive reflects a yearning for more war from the leadership of both major political parties, at a moment when the Trump administration is ratcheting up US aggression against numerous countries.
US sanctions on Venezuela led to the preventable deaths of some 40,000 Venezuelans in 2017 and 2018, and the Trump administration is hardly concealing its ambition to starve the Venezuelan population as a whole by threatening sanctions on the government’s CLAP food program.
The Trump administration is also increasingly threatening Iran. On May 24, Trump announced that he will be sending 1,500 troops and a dozen fighter jets to the Middle East, in a significant escalation of US aggression against Tehran.
At the same time, the Trump administration declared an “emergency” to bypass Congressional oversight and expedite the sale of billions of dollars of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Representative Tulsi Gabbard, an outsider in the 2020 presidential race, has helped lead the campaign against a potential US war on Iran.
In one of many anti-war tweets, Gabbard wrote: “Cost of Iran war? A region engulfed in bloodletting, countless lives, many trillions $, our national security undermined, ISIS/AQ strengthened, massive immigration crisis, likely confrontation btwn US & nuclear Russia or China. War without end because ‘victory’ will remain undefined.”
Senator Bernie Sanders has also joined the movement against a war on Iran. He published a video on May 24 affirming, “I was right about Vietnam. I was right about Iraq. I will do everything in my power to prevent a war with Iran. I apologize to no one.”
Ben Norton is a journalist and writer. He is a reporter for The Grayzone, and the producer of the Moderate Rebelspodcast, which he co-hosts with Max Blumenthal. His website is BenNorton.com, and he tweets at @BenjaminNorton
WASHINGTON (May 20, 2019) — A group of nearly 400 members of the United States Congress today called on President Trump to demonstrate American leadership in resolving the prolonged conflict in Syria.
In a letter led by Representatives Eliot L. Engel and Michael T. McCaul, Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Senators James Risch and Bob Menendez, Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the bipartisan, bicameral group of legislators called on the President to implement a comprehensive Syria strategy that addresses the security threats faced by the United States and its allies.
“The conflict in Syria is complicated, and the potential solutions are not perfect, but our only choice is to advance policies that can stop the growing threats to U.S. interests, Israel, and regional security and stability. This strategy requires American leadership,” the lawmakers wrote.
Full text of the letter can be found here and below.
Dear Mr. President:
At a time of grave insecurity in the Middle East, we are deeply concerned about the role that terrorist and extremist groups and U.S. adversaries continue to play, particularly in Syria. As some of our closest allies in the region are being threatened, American leadership and support are as crucial as ever.
To this end, we recommend several specific steps to advance our regional security priorities, including assisting our ally, Israel, in defending itself in the face of growing threats, including on its northern border.
Pockets of ungoverned space have allowed terrorist groups, such as ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and their affiliates, to keep parts of Syria in their stranglehold. These groups’ ability to recruit, propagandize, and grow is alarming. Though their main purpose now may be to fight inside Syria, they retain the ability and will to plan and implement attacks against Western targets, our allies and partners, and the U.S. homeland.
The United States has an interest in preventing these terrorist organizations from solidifying their foothold in the Middle East, which they would undoubtedly use to further destabilize the region, thereby undermining American interests.
The region has also been destabilized by Iranian regime’s threatening behavior. In Syria, Iran is working to establish a permanent military presence that can threaten our allies. In the past year alone, an Iranian-armed drone infiltrated Israeli airspace and the IRGC fired dozens of missiles toward Israel from Syria.
Additionally, Iran continues its program to pursue a direct overland route from Iran to Lebanon. That connection would better facilitate Iran’s supplying of Hezbollah terrorists and other Iranian-backed militias with deadly weapons. While our nation has encouraged more stable and inclusive political systems in the Middle East, the regime in Tehran has spread its influence and destabilized its neighbors for its own gain.
Like Iran, Russia is also working to secure a permanent presence in Syria, beyond its naval facility at Tartus. Russia has changed the arc of Syria’s civil war at the expense of Syria’s people by employing Russian troops, aircraft, and diplomatic protection to ensure the survival of the Assad regime.
Furthermore, in providing Damascus with advanced weapons like the S-300 anti-aircraft system, Moscow is complicating Israel’s ability to defend itself from hostile action emanating from Syria. Russia’s destabilizing role only complements that of Iran – since Russia shows no willingness to expel Iranian forces from Syria.
Hezbollah now poses a more potent threat to Israel as well. From Lebanon, Hezbollah has aimed more than 100,000 rockets and missiles at Israel that are increasingly more precise and of longer-range, giving the terrorist group the capability to strike anywhere in Israel.
Just a few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that a Hezbollah operative who is accused of killing five American soldiers in Iraq may now be setting up a terror network on the border between Israel and Syria. Israel also recently discovered and destroyed six Hezbollah tunnels that made their way into Israel from Lebanon, all while Hezbollah has increased its rhetoric about its intentions of kidnapping Israeli soldiers and civilians.
In order to limit the presence of terrorists and extremists, counter the activities of our adversaries, and strengthen Israel’s security we urge you to advance our regional interests by implementing a strategy including the following elements:
• Underscore Israel’s right to self-defense. It is longstanding U.S. policy to support Israel’s ability to defend itself by itself and support its qualitative military edge. With the region in flux, it remains critical that we reiterate to both friend and foe in the region that we continue to support Israel’s right to defend itself.
We must also look for ways to augment our support in the context of the current 10-year Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and Israel and to ensure that Israel has access to the resources and materiel it needs to defend itself against the threats it faces on its northern border. The U.S. should continue to oppose international efforts to isolate and weaken Israel.
• Increase pressure on Iran and Russia with respect to activities in Syria. Working with our allies and partners, we urge you to maintain and increase pressure on Iran and Russia to constrain their destabilizing activities. America must continue economic and diplomatic efforts to counter Iran’s support for Hezbollah and other terrorist groups as well as Russia’s support for the brutal Assad regime.
We encourage full implementation of sanctions authorized in the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), a broadly supported bipartisan bill that you signed into law. Clear and sustained American action and close coordination with our allies and partners can send an important message of resolve to malign actors in the region.
• Increase pressure on Hezbollah. By forcefully and fully implementing the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015, the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act of 2018, and other sanctions aimed at Hezbollah and those who fund it, America can reduce their ability to threaten and challenge Israel.
Additionally, we must continue to press UNIFIL to carry out its U.N. Security Council mandate, including investigating and reporting the presence of arms and tunnels on Israel’s border.
The conflict in Syria is complicated, and the potential solutions are not perfect, but our only choice is to advance policies that can stop the growing threats to U.S. interests, Israel, and regional security and stability. This strategy requires American leadership. We thank you for your consideration of our views.
Who Voted for War?
Eliot L. Engle
Michael R. McCaul
Joe Manchin, III
Chris Van Hollen
Ben Ray Lujan
Margaret Wood Hassan
M. Michael Rounds
Catherine Cortez Masto
Shelly Moore Capito
Robert Casey, Jr.
Ann NcLane Kuster
Jefferson Van Drew
Ralph Abraham, M.D.
David Roe, M.D.
Donald Payne, Jr.
Alv Butler Demings
Joseph Kennedy, III
Ann Kirkpatrick’Roger Marshall
A Donald McEachin
Gilbert Ray Cisneros, Jr.
Sheila Jackson Lee
G. K. Butterfield
Frank Pallone, Jr.
Sean Patrick Maloney
C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger
H. Morgan Griffith
Sanford Bishop, Jr.
Bill Pascrell, Jr.
Earl L. “Buddy” Carter
Bonnie Watson Coleman
Jaime Herrera Beutler
Emanuel Cleaver, II
A Drew Ferguson, IV
Cathy McMorris Rodgers
Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Kim Schrier, M.D.
Al Lawson, Jr.
Nanette Diaz Barragan
J. Luis Correa