Like most people, I am deeply troubled by the ongoing violence in Syria and horrified by reports that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its own people. I do not dispute that these despicable attacks against non-combatants were conducted by the Assad regime and that the world is justified in considering action against them. The question for me is this: What is the appropriate response to these atrocities? What action will truly discourage any government from using chemical weapons in the future? Finally, what action will not worsen the always challenging situation on the ground in the Middle East?
I am encouraged that President Obama is seeking Congressional approval before taking military action, and I am convinced, after attending Congressional briefings, that chemical weapons were used by the Syrian government, in the past and most recently in the outskirts of its own capital. I am also encouraged by the proposed amendment in the Senate to limit the time frame of any Congressional approach for military action related to this matter. Yet, I am not convinced that the response the president proposes will prevent future attacks or bring any real stability to the region.
I have many questions the briefings simply did not answer:
Will targeted short term strikes be enough to deter future use of chemical or biological weapons by the Assad regime? I fear that any attack a despot survives can be sold as a victory for him. We have all heard the response, “Is that the best you got?”
Will these attacks discourage other nations, such as Iran, from seeking more powerful weapons themselves? When President Bush threatened Iran and North Korea they did not roll over in fear. Iran stepped up their pursuit of a nuclear weapon and North Korea stepped up their quest for long-range missiles to carry the nuclear weapons they already have.
Will such a strike serve to contain the violence within Syria or make it more likely to involve other nations in the region and beyond?
Will strikes against Assad strengthen his enemies? In this civil war, al Qaeda has aligned against Assad – would our strike help al Qaeda?
How would it affect the long term interests of the United States in the region and elsewhere?
How would it impact our allies in the region?
I understand full well that these questions have no simple answers but I believe that they must be fully considered as part of this discussion.
Votes on war and peace are the most consequential ones I take and I will not support military action except as a last resort...
I am trying to keep an open mind and giving the Obama Administration the opportunity to make the case for military action. I consider myself a supporter of the president and agree with him on most issues. I am a longtime friend and supporter of Secretary of State John Kerry and feel that I owe it to him to listen.
I remain wary, however, about becoming entangled in something that may make the situation worse in Syria. As this debate unfolds, I am mindful of the impact that a vote in support of military action will have. It is a vote to potentially send someone’s son or daughter into harm’s way. Votes on war and peace are the most consequential ones I take and I will not support military action except as a last resort, consistent with our principles and interests.
Congress is expected to vote on a resolution involving Syria in the days ahead. I will carefully review the final language of that resolution as well as all available supporting documentation before making a decision. At this point, I am just not convinced military action is the answer.
This program aired on September 5, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.