Republican Sen. Tom Cotton (Ark.) on Thursday asked four former U.S. ambassadors to Middle Eastern countries testifying before a congressional committee what they believe are the best steps that Washington can take to counter Iran’s influence in Syria.
During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Cotton asked what the best practical steps would be to push back against Iranian aggression while maintaining the support of the American people.
“I’d like your advice in terms of best practical steps,” Cotton said, directing his question at Ryan Crocker, former ambassador to Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and Lebanon. “I don’t think anyone believes the American people will support a large-scale conventional military deployment to Syria, but what are the best practical steps that we could take that could have the durable support of the American people to minimize Iranian influence inside of Syria.”
Crocker said the U.S. needs to “pull together” a policy with Syrian forces.
“The most critical thing in my view is pull together a policy,” Crocker said. “What we’re seeing now with the Syrian Democratic Forces that were so closely allied with us in the campaign against ISIS, they don’t know what we’re going to do next.”
The Syrian Democratic Forces constitute a U.S.-backed coalition of Syrian Kurds and Arabs that has helped in the fight against the Islamic State.
James Jeffrey, who served as ambassador to Turkey and Iraq, also weighed in, saying it is important for the U.S. to keep a military presence in Syria.
“We have a diplomatic entrée with U.N. Resolution 2254, which means it’s all of our business how Syria is organized, and we can leverage the possibility of reconstruction as a means to try to force a wedge between the Russians … Syrians, and the Iranians,” Jeffrey said.
“But we have to keep not just diplomacy but military presence there,” Jeffrey continued, adding that the U.S. needs to work with Turkey, the Kurds in Iraq, and the Iraqi government so forces can physically get in and out of Syria.
Eric Edelman, former ambassador to Turkey, and Stuart Jones, former ambassador to Iraq and Jordan, also testified at the hearing.
All four men have held other senior-level government positions that involved formulating U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.