US Syria envoy Jeffrey: I was not consulted by Trump on withdrawal

Jeffrey claimed that Iran is under pressure from US and Israel.

Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C (photo credit: FLICKR)
Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C
(photo credit: FLICKR)
US special representative for Syria engagement and special envoy for the anti-ISIS coalition, James Jeffrey, admitted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday that he wasn’t consulted by President Donald Trump about the decision to withdraw from Syria. He testified to the Senate on a hearing “assessing the impact of Turkey’s offensive in northeast Syria,” in a grilling that revealed a deep breakdown in the way the US conducts foreign policy.
Jeffrey, a former ambassador, said that the US offered incentives to Turkey before its invasion. He still referred to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as colleagues, even though the US opened the skies to Turkey to bomb the SDF. In addition, Jeffrey indicated that at least one war crime had been committed during Turkey’s operations. However, he claimed that even though the US was withdrawing, they are still committed to defeating ISIS and removing Iranian-commanded forces in Syria.
US Sen. Benjamin Cardin slammed Jeffrey and the Trump administration for withdrawing, asking the special envoy whether he believed that Turkey would still invade if US troops had remained. “That’s not believable,” the senator said, adding that Jeffrey had lost credibility.
Live: Senate Foreign Relations holds hearing on impact of Turkey's offensive in Syria
Several senators also criticized Turkey, and Sen. Marco Rubio asked how much thought went into the decision.
“I can’t determine how much thought went into it specifically. ” Jeffrey said. “We were prepared since December 2018 when the US announced withdrawal, to deal with the situation without [boots] on the ground. We had plans in place.” He said the SDF was still detaining ISIS members and conducting ongoing stabilization operations. There are some 14,000 ISIS fighters still scattered in desert areas.
Jeffrey claimed that Iran is under pressure from Israel, which he claimed is supported by the US. He also claimed the US supports Israel’s actions against Iran in Syria. Asked about what exactly Turkey was going to do against ISIS, Jeffrey claimed that ISIS doesn’t have much of a presence in Turkey’s areas.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen asked how the US could do anything against Iran if they withdraw from Syria. Jeffrey claimed the US Air Force was present. “Military power isn’t the only tool we use,” he said, arguing that he was a diplomat and not a soldier.
Shaheen pointed out the US had already pulled out diplomats, USAID and other diplomatic tools such as stabilization. “The other tools have also been taken away,” she said.
The special envoy claimed the US would continue to work with the SDF, even though they had opened the air space to let Turkey bomb the SDF and drive 200,000 people from their homes. Jeffrey said the US had encouraged the creation of the SDF and encouraged it to be a Kurdish and Arab force.
Asked about what leverage the US has today in Syria, Jeffrey claimed that the US has the “leverage of a broken state.” He explained that Syrian President Bashar Assad “has Israel to contend with,” and said the US has no problem mobilizing international consensus on Syria. He said he was not abreast of what the Pentagon was doing, and noted that the US only has airspace control over its own troops.