Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) questions Secretary of State John Kerry, during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, on Capitol Hill February 23, 2016 in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson—Getty Images
By Jay Newton-Small
February 24, 2016

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker said Wednesday that the U.S. is “empowering [Syrian strongman Bashar] Assad,” despite years of calls from the Obama Administration to for Assad to go.

The Tennessee Republican has long criticized the Obama Administration for not acting more forcefully to quell hostilities in Syria, but he took that argument one step further on Wednesday.

“I do think the European Union is open now, because people look at their own immediate self interests, I do think they’re open for Assad to be there for a while and they look at that as a better case than the chaos,” Corker told a breakfast in Washington hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “For someone with no real cards to play, it’s sad for me to say that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has played the cards that he has in a masterful way and taken advantage of a nation that is not willing to lead, and he knows it, and the European Union knows it, and so yes they are becoming far more okay with [Assad] staying in power.”

Corker said it was clear to him that Secretary of State John Kerry blames the Syrian opposition for the current state of the war.

“If you just look at the body language and you listen to where the frustration lies, which is with the opposition,” Corker said. “Let’s face it, we are empowering Assad. I mean if you listen to John Kerry he’s more upset with the Syrian opposition than he is with Russia or Iran.”

Corker argued that the U.S. could have mitigated or even prevented much of the disintegration in Syrian if it had struck, as it had threatened to do, in 2013 after it was revealed Assad had used chemical weapons against his own people. Instead of striking, President Obama opted for a diplomatic bargain with Putin for Assad to willingly surrender his chemical weapons. “Do I think it would’ve solved the whole problem? No. But when we did not get Assad in September 2013 it said to the world that we could not be counted on,” Corker said. “Let’s face it, who propped up Assad more than any one? We did. Because in order to get the chemical weapons out of the country, he had to be there. So we began by propping up Assad and making these hollow comments about him having to go.”

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