Sen. Tim Kaine Criticizes Obama's Syria Strategy The Virginia senator says President Obama needs to have a comprehensive strategy to end the conflict in Syria. He tells NPR's Scott Simon what that should look like.

Sen. Tim Kaine Criticizes Obama's Syria Strategy

Sen. Tim Kaine Criticizes Obama's Syria Strategy

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The Virginia senator says President Obama needs to have a comprehensive strategy to end the conflict in Syria. He tells NPR's Scott Simon what that should look like.


Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, joins us now. Senator, thanks for being with us.

TIM KAINE: You bet, Scott. Glad to be with you.

SIMON: The White House says there'll be less than 50 special ops forces, and they're not there for combat but logistics. You have reservations.

KAINE: I do, Scott. I have reservations about the administration's strategy and plan, and I have deep reservations about what Congress has not done in the 15 months this war has been going on. First, let's skip all the kind of rhetorical and linguistic distinctions. We've got troops deployed in combat. We've got about 3,700 people who are deployed into Iraq and Syria. We've been there for now over - almost 15 months. It's cost the American taxpayer about $5 billion. And this notion that but don't worry, they're not there for combat, I just think doesn't pass the straight face test. We've lost a number of American service members who've been deployed in this mission, and the first to die in combat died last week. And I think it dishonors their service to suggest that this isn't combat. We're in an undeclared war that the president started on August 8, 2014 and that Congress has refused to debate and vote on it as the Constitution requires. But as the ISIL threat and this U.S. involvement continues to expand, I do think Congress is going to have to confront and really engage with the administration on what the strategy is and how much of it we are willing to authorize.

SIMON: Senator, I think I can quote you correctly. You just said an undeclared war that the president started. I mean, that's a serious charge. That's what the Democrats used to accuse the previous administration of doing.

KAINE: Well, you know, the Constitution is just so clear, Scott. Article 1 of the Constitution says, you shouldn't be at war unless Congress declares it. Now a president has power under Article 2 to defend the United States. And when the bombing campaign first began in August of 2014, the president was defending a U.S. embassy, a consulate, actually, in Erbil in northern Iraq. But within a few weeks, the U.S. was now under no imminent threat, and that continues. Once the president said - and this is almost a direct quote - it's time to go on offense against ISIL, at that point, congressional authorization was required. But to come to the president's defense, he felt that this was necessary because ISIL...

SIMON: Yeah.

KAINE: ...Was such a significant threat, and I agree. But Congress doesn't want to touch it. Congress wants to criticize the president but neither authorize nor stop what the president is doing. And it's just a huge abdication of responsibility, and it sets a horrible precedent. We all think ISIL is bad, but what we're basically doing is setting a precedent where a president can start a war and take it, you know, for more than a year without Congress getting involved at all, and that's just not what should happen.

SIMON: Sen. Kaine, as you see it from the Senate, what is the administration's strategy in Syria and in the war against ISIS?

KAINE: The strategy, Scott, is really hard to describe in Syria. So in Iraq, there is a clear strategy. You can like it or not, or you can say it's succeeding or not, but it's basically to build up the capacity of the Iraqi security forces to battle ISIL. To help build up more capacity in Sunni areas and the Anbar province...

SIMON: Well, but let me - forgive me, Senator.

KAINE: Yeah.

SIMON: I don't want to impersonate the last debate that we just saw, but we've just got...

KAINE: (Laughter).

SIMON: ...About 30 seconds left.


SIMON: Do you think the administration perceives ISIS as a greater threat than the Assad regime in Syria and is making that choice in so many words?

KAINE: Scott, that's the problem. The Iraq strategy is clear, but the Syria strategy is a muttle (ph) because there's a desire to the defeat ISIL. And we've had some success with the Kurds in the north, but there hasn't been a clear strategy vis-a-vis Assad. These are two problems that are connected, and you can't have a strategy that's just about one. We're hoping for a, you know, a strong outcome to these discussions in Geneva, the restart of a peace discussion about Syria. But we've been pursuing a strategy in Syria that's kind of a half strategy without having a strategy on Assad and the refugee crisis and so many other (unintelligible) for that.

SIMON: Sen. Tim Kaine, thanks so much.

KAINE: Thank you.

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