PALATINE, Ill. ― Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) challenged President Donald Trump to state his administration’s “endgame” for military involvement in Syria following the U.S. military’s missile strike on a Syrian air field last week.
Speaking to a full house of constituents at a town hall in the Chicago suburb of Palatine on Tuesday night, Duckworth was asked what was accomplished with the first direct assault on the regime of Syrian President /www.huffingtonpost.com/topic/bashar-al-assad"}}" data-beacon-parsed="true">Bashar Assad and what the long-term strategy would be.
Duckworth said that she wants to know, too ― and that Trump needs to provide those answers quickly.
“The Trump administration needs to come forward and [state] its goal. Come forward and tell us the truth,” Duckworth responded.
Following the town hall, constituents like Lisa Goranson, 58, and Sue Walton, 80, were troubled by Trump’s sudden shift on involvement in Syria.
“It’s about the long term, not just the one time,” Walton said.
“It’s like something just happened that the president didn’t define — and there’s no plan,” Goranson added. “What happens to the country after this?”
Though Trump was critical of plans to attack Syria during President Barack Obama’s administration, he said he changed his mind after more than 70 Syrian civilians were killed in last week’s poison gas attack. The Trump administration later said the U.S. airstrike was retaliation for the gas attack, which was allegedly carried out by the Assad regime.
Duckworth, however, was dubious about the administration’s rationale.
“Why is it we retaliated when they hit innocent people with chemical weapons but not with barrel bombs?” she said of the Assad regime’s systematic use of barrel bombs on rebel-held towns throughout Syria’s ongoing civil war.
The Trump administration has contradicted itself on what the U.S. policy is toward Syria: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Sunday that there has been “no change,” but the Trump-appointed U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, indicated that Assad should be ousted.
At the town hall, Duckworth agreed, calling Assad a “butcher” who needs to be removed, but she said the difficult but necessary answers must come from Trump’s White House.
“They need to say what their endgame is. Is it regime change? How many years of engagement? How many troops?”
The answers should also be carefully considered, Duckworth warned.
“It is so easy to sound the drums of war. It is so much harder to keep peace,” said Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran who is among just four senators to have served in either Iraq or Afghanistan.
“If our troops go to war and could use a broken-down helicopter pilot who walks with a limp and a cane, I will go,” added Duckworth, who lost her right leg and part of her left leg and injured her arm when her helicopter was shot down in Iraq in 2004. “But I will also be the first person to question why we’re doing that. I’m going to stand on that Senate floor and ask that tough question.”
Though Duckworth could not predict what the Trump administration would do regarding Syria, constituents at the town hall appeared pleased with her promise to push for accountability from the president and from her fellow members of Congress.
Other responses, including her call to reopen the borders to Syrian refugees, received cheers at the lively but polite town hall. Attendees ranged in age from elderly voters to a shy grade-school girl who asked Duckworth if it was fun to be a senator. (Duckworth’s response, in short: It’s complicated.)
If any Republican opponents showed up, they remained inconspicuous. The audience was overwhelmingly progressive and included grassroots activists, city-dwelling citizens concerned about gun control and women still donning pink hats from January’s Women’s March (Duckworth was a speaker at the Washington march).
Tuesday’s event lacked the fireworks of other recent town halls, where members of Congress ― particularly Republican lawmakers who pledged to repeal the Affordable Care Act or otherwise supported Trump policies ― have faced off against angry constituents.
Trump and his administration were frequent targets of criticism by Duckworth and attendees. Other concerns raised included environmental protection, immigration reform and calls for an independent investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election.