For the first time, several other senators joined Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) in questioning the legal authority for the US presence in Syria, which was not sanctioned by the UN or the Syrian government. Fighting Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) could be shoehorned into the 2001 congressional authorization to fight terrorism, but what happens when IS is defeated? Satterfield said the terrorist group will remain a danger indefinitely, and the only way to make sure it doesn’t return is political change in Syria.
The State Department official sought to downplay Turkish fears of the US working with the Syrian Kurds, saying the political structures being established in the US-controlled part of Syria are “multiethnic, not Kurdish in an ethnonationalist sense.” The Kurds and Arabs gathered around the SDF are “a big swath of population, of assets – both hydrocarbon and agricultural – and they need to be part of a future of Syria,” Satterfield said.
Senator Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) noted that Russians are also a “foreign force” in Syria. Satterfield said the US is working to remove them through a “combination of measures,” including sanctions. Russia has a defense treaty with Damascus and its forces in Syria are there at the invitation of the government.
After Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) complained about Russia’s growing influence in the Middle East, Satterfield explained that the US is still the biggest player in the region.
Moscow’s focus has been on “stabilization … putting an end to the chaos and violence” in Syria, Satterfield said. “The question is at what price, over the long term.”
Asked what kind of persuasion the US is using, Satterfield brought up US military power in the region and access to reconstruction funds for Syria, something he said Russia, Iran and the government in Damascus lack.