War Drums: Lawmakers React to Possible US Military Strikes in Syria (Constantly Updated)

ON ALERT IN THE MEDITERRANEAN SEA: An F/A-18F Super Hornet performs a touch-and-go on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) on August 15. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says US forces are "ready to go" if President Obama orders strikes in Syria. (US Navy photo by Lyle H. Wilkie III via AFP)

The Obama administration is poised to launch military strikes in Syria “within days,” charging forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons in a lethal Aug. 21 attack.

Lawmakers’ reactions have been — predictably — mixed. Intercepts will present key portions of select members’ statements and post them here as the drums of war escalate — yet again — in Washington:

GOP House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio:

Boehner sent a pointed letter to Obama on Wednesday, asking for answers to 14 detailed questions about a potential Syria military operation, and urging the president to make the case to the American people and Congress before making a green-lighting missile strikes.

Democratic Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin of Michigan:

“This morning, the administration briefed me on the situation in Syria. The administration is proceeding cautiously, consulting with our allies and other countries in the region to respond to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people. The president is considering a broad range of options that have been presented by our military leaders.”

Republican House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon of California:

“I share Americans’ concern with the developing situation in Syria, and I am monitoring events there closely. Using chemical weapons against innocent civilians is unacceptable. No regime can be allowed to do so with impunity.

“The President established a red line policy. I expect the Commander in Chief would consult with Congress in the days ahead as he considers the options available to him. Drawing red lines before you know what you are willing to do to back them up is folly, but now that American credibility is on the line, the President cannot fail to act decisively.”

GOP Senate Armed Services Committee members John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina:

“Now is the time for decisive actions. The United States must rally our friends and allies to take limited military actions in Syria that can change the balance of power on the ground and create conditions for a negotiated end to the conflict and an end to Assad’s rule. Using stand-off weapons, without boots on the ground, and at minimal risk to our men and women in uniform, we can significantly degrade Assad’s air power and ballistic missile capabilities and help to establish and defend safe areas on the ground. In addition, we must begin a large-scale effort to train and equip moderate, vetted elements of the Syrian opposition with the game-changing weapons they need to shift the military balance against Assad’s forces.

“The United States has sat on the sidelines for too long as the conflict in Syria has taken the lives of more than 100,000 Syrians and turned millions more into refugees, including 1 million children. The conflict is now becoming a regional one that directly threatens some of America’s closest friends and allies in the Middle East. … “It is not in our national security interest for this conflict to grind on, as some suggest. To the contrary, as we have clearly seen, the longer the conflict in Syria goes on, the worse and worse it gets and the more it spreads throughout the region.”

Democratic House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith of Washington:

“It now appears that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons to kill hundreds of Syrian civilians and the world must respond. The overall stability of the Middle East region and the security of our allies – including Turkey, Jordan, and Israel – are of critical importance to the security of the United States. Preventing al Qaeda from establishing a secure base of operations in Syria is vitally important to protecting the United States from terrorist attacks.

“I am still waiting to see what specifically the Administration and other involved partners have to say about a potential military strike, but I am concerned about how effective such an action could be and, above all else, I am worried that such action could drag the United States into a broader direct involvement in the conflict. Military action could have significant consequences and there is no guarantee that it would improve the situation or promote a positive outcome. Any potential use of military force will have long-term costs and will put our troops in harm’s way. Simply lashing out with military force under the banner of ‘doing something’ will not secure our interests in Syria.”

Republican Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas:

“Before any action is taken regarding Syria, it is imperative that President Obama make the case to the American people and consult with Congress. He needs to explain what vital national interests are at stake and should put forth a detailed plan with clear objectives and an estimated cost for achieving those objectives.”

Republican House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce of California:

“The Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons is beyond the pale. The United States has deep national security interests in Syria and the region. The president has said this is a ‘red line.’ He is now proposing to put action behind his words. Any U.S. military action could bring serious consequences or further escalation. The president should be making the case to the American public, and his administration should come to Congress to explain their plans.  The consequences are too great for Congress to be brushed aside.”

Potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky:

“The United States should condemn the use of chemical weapons. We should ascertain who used the weapons and we should have an open debate in Congress over whether the situation warrants U.S. involvement. The Constitution grants the power to declare war to Congress not the president.

“The war in Syria has no clear national security connection to the United States and victory by either side will not necessarily bring in to power people friendly to the United States.”

GOP House Government Operations and National Security subcommittee member Justin Amash on Twitter:

“War Powers Resolution is consistent w/Constitution: Pres can take unilateral action only pursuant to nat’l emergency.”

Democratic Senate Armed Services Committee member Bill Nelson of Florida:

“There should be moral outrage over the use of chemical weapons on innocent civilians in Syria. At this point I believe it appropriate to take military action with NATO and our regional allies. Inaction would only lead to greater suffering and instability in the region and would further embolden Assad.”

Republican House Armed Services Committee member Duncan Hunter of California:

“In the event Assad is removed, it’s important that American alliances are capable of influencing events in Syria. Our friends in the region, among them the King of Jordan, who have shown resistance to Islamic extremism, along with our own military and intelligence agencies, have assured me that we can effectively vet and validate opposition groups with the intent of providing arms and training to defeat the Assad regime. If America is to have any immediate role in the removal of Assad, training and arming the opposition should be the extent of U.S. involvement, which is sufficient to show America’s solidarity with friends in the region.”

 Democratic Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Chris Murphy of Connecticut:

“In the short-term … there is little chance that targeted air strikes would destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, making the strikes little more than a slap on the wrist. Moreover, those air strikes would prompt a reaction from Assad as well as the countries that finance his murderous regime. Before engaging in a military strike against Assad’s forces, the United States must understand that this action will likely draw us into a much wider and much longer-term conflict that could mean an even greater loss of life within Syria.

“In addition to increasing humanitarian aid to the millions of innocent Syrians suffering at the hands of Assad, we must maintain concerted diplomatic, political, and economic pressure on the regime through the international community. … I urge the Administration to continue to exercise restraint, because absent an imminent threat to America’s national security, the U.S. should not take military action without Congressional authorization.”

John T. Bennett

John T. Bennett

Bennett is the Editor of Defense News' CongressWatch channel. He has a Masters degree in Global Security Studies from Johns Hopkins University.
John T. Bennett