Walz: US can’t rush Syria decisionPublished 10:08am Monday, September 2, 2013
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration pressed Congress on Sunday for an expansive green light to attack Syria, and while many legislators are backing some sort of military action, they say so with caution.
“There are no good options on Syria,” U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said in a press release over the weekend. “But as I’ve said, the use of chemical weapons to kill over a thousand people and injure many more is a horrendous act, and there have to be consequences for that. Whatever action the United States takes, it has to be limited action.”
Franken added whatever decision is made “definitely should not lead to American boots on the ground.”
Fellow Minnesota Democrat and U.S. Rep. Tim Walz also urges a well-planned decision.
“As I’ve said from the beginning, the use of chemical weapons is despicable and there is a moral responsibility to defend the defenseless, but we cannot rush into this decision,” Walz said in a press release. “I look forward to hearing from southern Minnesotans and debating this issue with my colleagues in Congress to make sure the national security of our nation is paramount.”
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) met with Syrian rebels and refugees in the spring and believes any action needs to be an international response, according to Minnesota Public Radio.
Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday appeared on five television networks to make the case for military action against the Syrian government for what he said was the use of sarin gas on civilians.
“We have learned through samples that were provided to the United States and that have now been tested from first responders in east Damascus (that) hair samples and blood samples have tested positive for signatures of sarin,” Kerry said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “So this case is building and this case will build.”
While he worked to convince Congress that the intelligence is accurate about the use of chemical weapons, Congress expressed more skepticism about the wisdom of a potential airstrike as well as the language of the war powers authorization being sought by the White House. A round of briefings and press sessions Sunday led only to congressional promises to rewrite President Obama’s proposal and a reiteration of concerns.
“What I’m troubled by is after the strike, the Assad regime is still there,” said Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va. “Let’s say we attack two air force bases. Certainly it would result in loss of life of young Syrian conscripts who have absolutely nothing to do with the (chemical attack), yet the Assad regime is still in place.”
Though the administration on Friday released an intelligence summary declaring with a “high degree of confidence” that Syria had used chemical weapons, Kerry’s statements Sunday were the first to identify the specific chemical allegedly used.
Originally developed in Germany before World War II as a pesticide, sarin is a colorless and tasteless nerve agent that can cause convulsions, paralysis and death. Even exposure to a tiny drop on the skin can cause sweating and muscle twitching, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The United States during the Cold War developed a sarin stockpile, as did the Soviet Union, but both countries have since signed an international treaty outlawing the use of all chemical weapons.
Syria is one of five countries that have not signed or ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention.
“Bashar al-Assad now joins a list of Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein who have used these weapons in time of war,” Kerry said on NBC. “Now it’s up to the Congress of the United States to join (Obama) in affirming the international norm with respect to enforcement against the use of chemical weapons.”
Obama’s proposed language for congressional approval would authorize the president to use force “as he determines to be necessary and appropriate” in order to “prevent or deter the use or proliferation” of chemical or biological weapons, as well as other “weapons of mass destruction.”
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday on Syria. The House is sticking to its planned summer schedule and will return next week.
Lawmakers appeared divided into several groups. Some hawks want to strike hard and fast, some lawmakers want to stay out of Syria altogether and a good number want to hear more from both the administration and their constituents. The most recent surveys show a majority of U.S. residents surveyed oppose military action in Syria.
“If the vote were held today, it would probably be a ‘no’ vote,” Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., the former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “It is going to be difficult to get the vote through in Congress, especially when there is going to be time during the next nine days for opposition to build up to it.”
Dangerously for Obama, Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina sounded similarly skeptical. The two veteran lawmakers, though they have given Obama some cover in the past, are now declaring that they “cannot in good conscience support isolated military strikes in Syria that are not part of an overall strategy that can change the momentum on the battlefield.”
Despite the intense gridlock in Congress over debt reduction, health care, immigration and other issues, some lawmakers were more optimistic about the chances of consensus when it came to a question of national security.
“At the end of the day, Congress will rise to the occasion,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich. “This isn’t about Barack Obama versus the Congress. This isn’t about Republicans versus Democrats. This has a very important worldwide reach.”
From the opposite flank, some conservatives and liberals are united for disparate reasons in saying the United States should simply steer clear of Syriaaltogether. The senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, said Sunday on “Fox News Sunday” that he doesn’t think Congress will approve the authorization.
“Another thing we want to know, and my constituents ask over and over, is what is the relationship to the United States?” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md. “In other words, is there a threat?”
Meanwhile, Syria on Sunday gloated over a “historic American retreat.”
Saturday’s announcement was immediately seized upon by Syrian officials and state media, presenting it as a victory for the regime.
Speaking to reporters in Damascus on Sunday, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Mikdad said the “hesitation” and “confusion” were obvious in Obama’s speech Saturday announcing his decision to seek Congress’s approval for any military action.
“Whether the Congress lights the red or green light for an aggression, and whether the prospects of war have been enhanced or faded, President Obama has announced yesterday, by prevaricating or hinting, the start of the historic American retreat,” crowed the state-run daily newspaper al-Thawra.
The Syrian Opposition Coalition said that if the international community fails to respond to Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons, it would set a dangerous precedent.
“Dictatorships like Iran and North Korea are watching closely to see how the free world responds to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people,” it said.
The Washington Post and Associated Press contributed to this report.