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Rep. Capuano: 'What Happens The Day After Military Action?'

This article is more than 9 years old.

On Thursday morning, U.N. inspectors are back at the site of the alleged chemical weapons attack near Damascus in Syria. Meantime, the world is weighing its response.

In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron is vowing to hold off on military action until the inspectors complete their investigation.

President Obama said the U.S. has "concluded" the Syrian government orchestrated a chemical attack. He also said a U.S. military strike would send a strong signal, but he has not yet decided what to do.

On Capitol Hill, members of the Massachusetts delegation are weighing in, including Rep. Michael Capuano of the state's 7th congressional district.

Senior White House officials plan to brief congressional leaders on Thursday about the Syrian situation, but Capuano said he has not yet been told if a larger briefing will take place. He added that whatever the president decides, he needs to go through Congress first.

Rep. Michael Capuano: I certainly feel very strongly that we need to be consulted before any military action is taken. And by consulted, I mean allow the Congress to vote whether they approve an action or not.

Bob Oakes: Why do you think Congress needs to approve this, considering that other presidents have taken military action in the past without congressional approval?

The last time even President Obama — whom I greatly support, I think he's been a very good president, I support almost most of the things he's done — even then, I was part of the group that shooed him when he got involved in Libya without congressional approval. I think the Constitution is clear, that it is the House that is a requirement under the Constitution to declare war. And when you get involved militarily with an independent country, no matter how bad they might be, that is an act of war. So I think very strongly that the Congress has to have a say in this matter. Now, whether we say yes or no is a completely separate issue.

What would it take in terms of evidence to convince you that U.S. military action is warranted?

For me, a couple of things. Number one is solid proof that they did engage in the gas attacks, which I expect that they will have. Certainly Secretary Kerry and the president have been very strong; I have no reason to doubt them, but I'd like to see the evidence myself.

And second of all, for me, what happens the day after military action? It's relatively easy for the United States to throw a missile at anybody we want, but what does it do to the region? What does it do in the long term interests of the United States and the region? Does it improve the situation or does it make it worse? I think that's the most important question.

If you believe that the evidence presented by the administration is credible, can you actually see yourself voting for a strike? And what would a strike, so to speak, look like from your point of view?

Again, as I've always said, I never take anything off the table. I think the president is right in that decision. At the same time, like anything else, there are several steps here. Number one is the action of the other party deserving of military action? Is it deserving of U.S. military action or multilateral military action?

And then what happens the next day? I think of all the things that was the most difficult with Iraq. No one thought that Saddam Hussein was a good man in any capacity, but the question still remained: What happened the next day? I think we just saw what happened when we don't think it through. We then would get mired in 10 years worth of war, pretty much on our own. There's still serious questions as to whether it was worth the endeavor or not.

You think the U.S. can go it alone on this? We hear new reluctance coming out of the European nations about taking action following this alleged chemical weapons attack.

I think it is certainly not preferable in any capacity. Again, can we physically and militarily? Probably yes. But whether we should or not, I think, is a better question. And that makes me very, very hesitant. We would then be conducting a war across one of the most difficult regions in the world today on our own, and that to me raises a thousand other questions. And again, that doesn't presume that the Assad regime is good, that they are helpful, that they are worth keeping, but there are a lot of bad regimes.

Beyond convincing you and your colleagues in Congress that the U.S. needs to take action, does the president need to do a better job at explaining  to the American public what happened and what he wants to  do? Why do you think he hasn't made that case yet?

It may be premature. They have U.N. investigators on the ground. It is a very difficult situation. I think the president is handling it OK so far. It has to be judicious. Hopefully he's reaching out for allies around the world. We've all seen what's happened in Europe; they've kind of taken a half a step back now. But I have no criticism of that aspect of it. I do think that if we decide to take action, I hope and presume the president will make a strong statement to the public.

This program aired on August 29, 2013.

Bob Oakes Senior Correspondent
Bob Oakes was a senior correspondent in the WBUR newsroom, a role he took on in 2021 after nearly three decades hosting WBUR's Morning Edition.



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