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World

Revisiting U.S. Policy On Syria

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We'd like to get a U.S. perspective on this now. United States Senator Mike Rounds is with us. He is a Republican. He represents South Dakota, and he serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee. And he's with us now. Senator Rounds, thank you so much for speaking with us.

MIKE ROUNDS: Yes, under very unfortunate circumstances, I might add.

MARTIN: Indeed, indeed. Now, nearly a year ago to the day, President Trump ordered airstrikes on Syria after an alleged chemical attack. You supported that decision. Do you think there needs to be a similar response now?

ROUNDS: I think last year, when it occurred, he was a new president. He sent a message, I believe, that was appropriate, that if you crossed that line that all civilized countries agree is drawn in the sand, that there will be consequences. Now, this year, they have once again crossed that line. I've suggesting that I think we have some very good individuals who can provide excellent advice to the president. I think we should appropriately respond but do it our terms, not based upon an immediate knee jerk but rather lay this thing out and make sure that this time there is no misunderstanding as to our position when Syria or Russia uses these types of weapons or allows these types of weapons to be used.

MARTIN: Well, you know, speaking of our position, I mean, the president has been tweeting a lot in response to these reports of this chemical attack. And he called on Syria to open up the area to medical workers. He said, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Assad. He blamed President Obama for not taking a tougher stance in Syria. But just this past week, the president suggested it might be time to pull out of Syria. So the question is, does this administration have a policy on Syria? Do you think you know what the administration's policy is?

ROUNDS: In most cases, when it comes to the policies that are actually being utilized, they are correct. I put more stock in them than the discussions that we have on the Twitter account. I liken that to basically the president having an open coffee conversation with the American public. I put more stock in the actual policies that are directed. I continue to believe that, in terms of our ability in Congress, we look at the policies of the directives. But I do not follow on a daily basis his Twitter account. I think that's more conversation than it is policy.

MARTIN: There has been a lot of churn at the White House, though, as you know, certainly in the foreign policy area. The president's about to bring on his third national security adviser tomorrow. He's on his second chief of staff. There's been a lot of turnover at the State Department. And I'm wondering what effect all this is having on the president's ability to focus and to commit on some of these difficult decisions. Do you have that concern?

ROUNDS: Well, he - the president has the prerogative to choose the people that he wants within his administration. I won't take that away from him. And he can change them as often as he wants. But it does make it more difficult for those of us that are following policy to be able to develop those relationships with the individuals who are advising the president.

I can tell you that our secretary of defense is very well respected in the halls of Congress. His advice, I think, is critical. His preparation and understanding about what has to occur before policy is actually implemented is very much respected. And it provides us, I think, with a more secure thought process with regard to how policy is developed and how it is implemented, you know, at the national level. So I like the fact that the secretary of defense is there. He has been there from the beginning. And most certainly, I think his advice is very, very valuable at a time like this.

MARTIN: Senator, we only have about 30 seconds left, so I wanted to ask if you think there is a role for Congress at this juncture?

ROUNDS: Most certainly I think Congress will look at what our response - the possible responses are. I would suspect that we will ask to make certain that we know who caused this attack and what the plans are to to make our position known and in terms of what our policy will be in response to this. The red line has been drawn in the sand. And most certainly, we have an obligation as one of the leading countries in the world to make a response to this type of uncivilized action by the individuals who did this.

MARTIN: That's Republican Senator Mike Rounds. He represents South Dakota. Senator, thank you so much for speaking with us.

ROUNDS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.