The leader of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee signaled to President Trump that the panel already approved the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) directed the comments toward Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), during the confirmation hearing for Mike Pompeo, Trump’s pick to serve as next Secretary of State.
Kaine had just completed pointed questioning of Pompeo, the current CIA Director, about whether regime change around the world should be an official US foreign policy.
Director Pompeo dodged the question, but it did prompt a response from Corker.
“It seems like everybody on this committee except Sen. [Rand] Paul of Kentucky agreed with the previous administration’s policy that Assad had to leave,” Corker said.
“Assad must go — that to me is indicative of some feeling of a regime change,” the Chairman added.
Sen. Kaine responded by claiming that current US policy toward Syria doesn’t include regime change. He described Assad as a “brutal dictator … subject to sanctions and international criminal prosecution, even military action.”
“But I don’t think the United States has a right to decide who should be the leader of another country,” Kaine said.
While Sen. Kaine is correct in noting that official stated policy from both the Obama and Trump administrations has stopped short of endorsing full regime change in Syria, it has in various forms endorsed the eventual departure of Assad.
In addition to military action already taken by the Trump administration against the Syrian government last April, the US has also since at least 2013 armed and trained rebel groups committed to the toppling of Assad.
During his testimony, Pompeo didn’t explicitly call for regime change in Syria. He did, however, argue that should President Trump take military action directly against the Assad government in response to new allegations of chemical weapons use, and that congressionally-approved authorization for military force is unnecessary.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) described a potential targeted military strike similar to the assault ordered last April against a Syrian airbase.
“I believe that the president has the authority to do that today,” Pompeo said.
Pompeo was reminded that, as a US Congressman, he was opposed to President Obama taking military action in Libya absent a congressional authorization.
“For a long time multiple administrations have found that the president has authority to take certain actions without first coming to congress to seek approval,” Pompeo said Thursday, providing Kosovo as an example.
President Trump, meanwhile, has backed off his rhetoric suggesting a US strike against Syrian government positions are imminent.
He tweeted on Thursday, “Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!”