Republicans in the House and Senate are completely deferential to President Donald Trump in public. But in private, many are concerned about his baffling decisions. And nowhere is that on better display than in a new report from the Washington Post on the recent summit in Munich, where American officials were met with both silence and ridicule.
According to the Washington Post, congressional Republicans were livid with acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), the leader of the main congressional delegation, pressed Shanahan on whether he was telling European officials in Munich that the full U.S. withdrawal from Syria was a done deal.
“Are you telling our allies that we are going to go to zero by April 30?” he asked Shanahan, according to Graham.
“Yes, that’s been our direction [from the president],” Shanahan replied.
“That’s the dumbest f---ing idea I’ve ever heard,” Graham responded.
“Well, if the policy is going to be that we are leaving by April 30, I am now your adversary, not your friend,” Graham told the acting Pentagon chief, according to Graham. (Several other lawmakers confirmed this exchange.)
The report from the Washington Post doesn’t include photos from the meeting between U.S. congressional leaders and Shanahan in Munich. I’ve included those photos here, despite the fact that they were released by Shanahan’s own public affairs office.
Again from the Washington Post:
Inside the meeting, after Graham confronted Shanahan, several other lawmakers from both parties chimed in, warning Shanahan of what they believed were the risks of Trump’s Syria withdrawal plan. They implored Shanahan to persuade the president to change course. Several lawmakers told me Shanahan stood silent, like a “deer in the headlights.” They said he failed to articulate a substantive response — other than to reiterate these were Trump’s instructions.
“[Shanahan] got a chorus of voices that basically said, ‘This is not going to work, there is a bipartisan resolve not to let this happen, and you need to send a message back to the president that there’s a combined, unified view this is not the way to go and he should change course,' ” Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Democrat Robert Menendez (N.J.) told me after the meeting. “[Shanahan] basically said he got the message.”
Menendez said the Europeans likely won’t commit any new troops to Syria until or unless Trump commits to leaving some U.S. troops there first. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said that if Trump does decide to leave some troops in Syria, he could get not only European help but also broad bipartisan congressional support.
All of the photos on this page are in the public domain and can be used freely.
In a normal environment, the defense secretary or secretary of state would be the one leading an important U.S. policy drive at a major international conference. But this year, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was absent following the previous “Peace and Security in the Middle East” conference in Warsaw — which many subsequently referred to as a diplomatic “dumpster fire.” There is no permanent defense secretary, and Shanahan does not have the mandate nor the intention to make policy.