BOSTON — Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Edward Markey said in a statement Tuesday he cannot support the current Senate resolution authorizing a military strike in Syria because “it is too broad” and would have “unpredictable” results.
He also said he opposes the resolution, pushed by President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, because “I believe we must give diplomatic measures that could avoid military action a chance to work.”
Markey’s stance follows last week’s “present” vote on the resolution in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It passed the panel, 10-7.
WBUR’s All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer spoke with Markey Tuesday evening about his change in thinking.
Sacha Pfeiffer: Could you let us know what changed in your thinking to decide today that your decision will be no?
Well, I think that the resolution is too broad. There was a last-minute change in the resolution which authorized not just military force as a surgical strike but also had explicit provisions that call for regime change by calling for the changing of the conditions on the battlefield in Syria. And so, from my perspective, given what happened in Iraq, given what happened in Afghanistan and in Libya after we entered into those countries, I want to understand what this language means in terms of the changing of the battlefield conditions and what role we would continue to play with our military toward the creation of a new Syria because we’ve already done this three times and it has not worked out well so far.
So that amendment you referenced felt like it may have opened too wide a door for military action to you?
Well, while the goal is not to have boots on the ground, the language itself calls for changing of momentum on the battlefield. And while we might be able to talk about step one, what about step two, three and four as we get deeper into the conflict? Are we opening the door to further, deeper American military involvement? And that was my concern about the [Sen.] John McCain amendment to the resolution. And so my announcement of a no vote reflects that concern which I have about that part of the resolution.
Senator, you have said before, including here on WBUR, that you would support “surgical strikes” in Syria. Is there a way that that resolution could be crafted narrowly enough that military action would be palatable to you?
Well, when I said that I added to it that I also would have to understand, however, the end game, the exit strategy for the United States, and so it’s a broader conversation. And I think what’s now happening is that there is a real diplomatic opening which has occurred.
This is the proposal by Russia to possibly put Syrian chemical weapons under United Nations inspection or control.
Exactly. And I think that’s really what everyone hopes for and that at the [U.N.] Security Council we can craft a resolution with Russia’s support and put Russia on the spot so that we have a resolution that has the weapons of mass destruction put under international control in Syria, and Secretary Kerry is going to Geneva on Thursday. There’s no one better to negotiate this and to work toward the elimination of chemical weapons in Syria. So I’m very hopeful that we can avoid having to deal with change in battlefield conditions in Syria and what the unintended consequences of a strike might be into that country if we can negotiate an international resolution of this issue.
That “present” vote you cast on the Foreign Relations Committee — as you know, you took a tremendous amount of flak for that. It was basically the first vote or the first major vote you made on Senate Foreign Relations and it was essentially a non-answer. Do you regret in retrospect that “present” vote?
No. There was only 24 hours to consider the totality of all of the evidence. I had not had an opportunity in those 24 hours to read all of the intelligence, and I wanted to avoid what happened with the war in Iraq, where people didn’t read the intelligence. It wasn’t a full understanding of what we were getting ourselves into. And I just felt that 24 hours was too short a period of time to make a decision that could jeopardize lives of Americans and involve us in a civil war in Syria. And so, no, I think that my decision today — saying I would cast a no vote — is now based upon dozens of hours of conversations with experts, reading the intelligence myself, so I can rest easy knowing that I have made the right decision.
This post has been updated with Markey’s conversation on WBUR.