Sen. Coons on Syria: ‘If you’re going into a big fight, bring some big friends’

The U.S. cruise missile strike last week against a Syrian military air base was an “appropriate” response to the use of chemical weapons by dictator Bashar Assad, Sen. Chris Coons said Monday morning. But the next steps, he said, will be “extremely difficult” and will require undoing damage Coons said the president had caused with his campaign trail rhetoric.

“If you’re going into a big fight, bring some big friends,” Coons (D-Del.) said on CNN’s “New Day” Monday morning. “So continuing to close the gaps created with our vital allies in NATO and across Europe by President Trump’s irresponsible statements as a candidate is urgent work to be done by members of congress, by members of the administration and by our senior diplomats.”

As a presidential candidate, Trump was often critical of long-held ironclad U.S. alliances, at one point calling NATO “obsolete” and suggesting that the U.S. might not meet its mutual-aid obligations to other treaty members who have not met the agreed-upon defense spending thresholds. From South Korea, a key ally, Trump said “we get practically nothing” in return for the thousands of U.S. troops stationed there even though the South Korean government pays hundreds of millions in costs associated with the American presence there.

That Trump was so willing to question decades of U.S. foreign and military policy, enacted by presidential administrations from both parties, sent shockwaves through the international community. The president has hewed more closely since taking office to the positions staked out by his predecessors, but Coons said Monday that there are fences that remain to be mended.

Trump’s budget proposal, released earlier this year, will also present challenges, Coons said. The so-called “skinny budget,” which was released last month and covers only discretionary spending, featured large cuts to the State Department and other agencies, that the Delaware lawmaker and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said would only hamper long-term efforts to find peace in Syria and Iraq, where a campaign to dislodge Islamic State militants is also ongoing.

“This is not the time to significantly cut our investment in diplomacy and development and humanitarian aid. Because navigating through the very complex crises in Syria and Iraq is going to be difficult and expensive,” Coons said. “If we’re not prepared for a diplomatic solution and a development solution, once we retake this cities of Mosul and Raqqa, then we’re simply going to repeat some of the mistakes of the past.”

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