BOSTON — As President Obama decides whether to launch a military response to Syria’s suspected use of chemical weapons on civilians, members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation are urging caution. In a written statement, Rep. Jim McGovern called for a united international response that avoids additional civilian casualties and further harm to already-stressed U.S. troops.
Sen. Ed Markey, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is calling for “surgical strikes” against sites Syria could use to launch chemical weapons. Sen. Markey spoke by phone with WBUR’s Barbara Howard.
Barbara Howard: What is your reaction to reports from the Obama administration that there is clear and convincing evidence that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons on civilians?
Sen. Edward Markey: I have confidence that President Obama and John Kerry are acting on absolutely conclusive evidence. I do believe as well that that is the pre-condition to any action that we take. I’m sure that we’ll see the evidence, and if that’s the case then I think that we have to send a message to Assad, to Syria, that use of chemical weapons is unacceptable.
What do you mean when you say surgical strikes? What kind of action do you have in mind?
I think it’s important for us not to get into the middle of civil war, that we not have American ground troops that are introduced. But I do think that we have to say to Assad that civilization will not accept the use of chemical weapons. So a surgical strike could be used in a way that targets certain key elements of the Syrian government and sends a very strong message, militarily, that if they continue to use chemical weapons, that there will be not only this first round of strikes against them, but subsequent strikes as well.
But still there is a fear that this could result in a more prolonged and costly conflict, isn’t there?
I think that there is a danger, which is why there has to be an end-game strategy. There has to be a clear understanding of what our goals are, that it’s limited in scope and duration and designed to punish Syria.
But is it important to take Assad out? Short of him being toppled, will this just persist — these problems in Syria?
I think it is possible for the world to send a signal to Assad that the use of chemical weapons is not permissible and we can be successful in deterring Assad from using those weapons in the future.
But Assad has heard that from [the U.S.] That’s why the threat was made — the red line that was drawn by the president. And evidently [Assad] has crossed it, if things are going as we believe that they are. Why would he change his approach?
I think that Assad would then have to weigh whether or not his non-compliance with the request that chemical weapons not be used would then lead to a further escalation by an international coalition. And I think that it’s unlikely, in my mind, that Assad would be willing to run that risk.
How might things have been different if the United States and potentially other countries had taken action against Syria long before now, before chemical weapons entered the picture?
There are real difficulties in identifying the elements that are democratic and separating them out from those that have al-Qaeda or radical Islamic roots, and that the weapons that we might introduce would not ultimately fall into the hands of those that would have interests opposite that of the United States or our democratic goals. I think that thus far the president has handled this situation well. I think Assad, as he crossed the line into the use of chemical weapons, has forced the United States into making a statement. And the use of military is part of that statement.
What do you think the timetable is? Are we looking at the next 24, 48 hours?
I think that when the international coalition has been established, when there has been full consultation with all of the relevant parties, then the president and our allies will be in a position to make that strike. I don’t think there’s any specific moment that has to be selected to make the statement. I think Assad knows something is coming.