BOSTON — When Congress reconvenes next week, its members will be asked to vote on whether to authorize U.S. military action in Syria. Among the lawmakers preparing for that debate is U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, who represents Massachusetts’ 2nd Congressional District and who’s been one of the most vocal opponents of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He spoke Tuesday on Radio Boston with Sacha Pfeiffer about his stance on the issue.
Sacha Pfeiffer: Starting with the most immediate question: Will you be supporting a U.S. military strike in Syria?
Jim McGovern: Well, the current resolution that is drafted, in my opinion, is too broad and open-ended so I could not vote for what they’ve presented to Congress right now, and I’m going to listen to all the testimony and all the briefings that we have before I make a final decision. But I have to tell you, I’m very skeptical. I’m just sick and tired of all these wars. And I don’t think they produce very much in terms of enhancing our security or really helping promote human rights. And my concerns about the plan in Syria is, I do believe we ought to hold Mr. [Bashar] Assad to account, but is a military option the best way to do that? What are the unintended consequences?
Everybody says that we want a political solution in Syria. Does this bring us closer to a political solution or does it embolden the hard-liners who don’t want a political solution?
So there are lots of questions here and I appreciate Secretary [John] Kerry saying, “Never. Never again.” But the truth of the matter is we have turned a blind eye, I’m sad to say, to atrocities in the past. When Saddam Hussein was using chemical weapons against the Kurds, we didn’t do anything; we cozied up to him at that time. And we have a genocide going on in Sudan and we haven’t done anything about that. I’m not saying that this isn’t serious, but we shouldn’t respond to it. But the bottom line is we have this habit of intervening when it meets our interests and not when it’s inconvenient.
On the issue of unintended consequences, which you just mentioned, last week you and about 50 other members of Congress sent a letter to President Obama warning about the risk that a U.S. strike in Syria could destabilize that whole region. You also asked for full congressional debate on a Syria decision, which you’ve gotten. But the letter also said that there needs to be an “appropriate response.” What do you consider an appropriate response at this point?
An appropriate response is a response that’s effective. One of the questions that I haven’t had answered yet is, will a military strike lead to what we ultimately want, which is a political settlement? How many civilians will be killed? What happens if you bomb a chemical weapons facility? Does that release all these gases into the air and then you end up killing a lot of innocent people in the process? What is Assad’s response? What is Iran’s response? What is Russia’s response? I mean, there are lots of questions that need to be asked and answered and there very well may be answers to everything, but I have yet to hear a convincing case made that bombing Syria is going to somehow bring us closer to the day when we could end the violence.
I want to play a piece of tape from House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi when she was speaking with reporters after meeting with Obama Tuesday. Here’s part of what she had to say: “And then members have to decide: Do they want to ignore the fact that this humanitarian disaster took place or not? And then there’s the larger issue of Syria’s behavior if they get away with this.” Now, Pelosi is advocating for military action in part on humanitarian grounds, and that’s a factor that you’re obviously very sensitive to since you co-chair the congressional Human Rights Commission. So how do you reconcile her views on the humanitarian issue with yours?
Well, again, my question is what are the casualties going to be — the civilian casualties — as a result of our bombing? Do we expect Assad to lash out even more ferociously against innocent civilians if we start bombing? I mean, there’s a humanitarian crisis there. Look, nobody’s suggesting that we ignore the terrible atrocities going on in Syria. That’s not the question. The question is, what is the most effective things to do?
Bombing certain targets in Syria, what does that get you? And I’m not convinced that it gets us to a point where we can move closer to a day when, hopefully, Assad leaves the scene and we end up with a political solution. Syria’s a very complicated place. Some of the people who are fighting most stridently against the Assad regime are al-Qaida. We’re bombing al-Qaida with drones in Yemen and here we may be bombing targets to help empower al-Qaida.
Again, all these things need to be discussed and need to be talked about, but to me the question that needs to be answered is: Can we tighten sanctions more? I’m told that all the sanctions we have around Syria have so many loopholes in them that people are able to get around things, especially in the banking industry. Can we tighten those up more? To me, a military solution ought to be the last resort.
I look at what’s going on in Afghanistan today: we’re in Afghanistan for over a decade, we have no idea why we’re there any more, and we’re promoting one of the most corrupt governments in the world. So a military response to everything doesn’t necessarily produce the results that we want. And that’s not about ignoring Assad; it’s about doing what is most effective to hasten the day the leaves and to end the violence in Syria.