Where they stand: Lawmakers' statements on Syria

1:22 PM, Sep 9, 2013   |    comments
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WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- As the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee meet on Syria on Wednesday, you may be curious what your local lawmaker thinks about possible military force being used against Syria.

We are compiling a list of lawmakers' stances on Syria. This is what we have found so far:

Congressman Rob Wittman of the 1st District of Virginia released the following statement:

"I have serious concerns with the situation in Syria, and after participating in a conference call with the White House this afternoon, I remain concerned about what the endgame might be for U.S. involvement in Syria at this time. The Administration has still not articulated their goals with potential U.S. military action and dedicated assets. I support a direct discussion and the involvement of Congress as required by the Constitution as this situation continues, and have joined with my colleagues in asking the President to seek congressional approval of any action against Syria."

Congressman James "Jim" Moran, who represents the 8th District of Virginia (Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax County, and Falls Church), released the following statement in favor of "an intervention" on Monday on his website:

"President Obama was absolutely right in setting a red line against the use of weapons of mass destruction by Bashar al-Assad. The United States has the only true ability to prevent the use and proliferation of such weapons," said Rep. Moran. "Abdicating this responsibility will only allow for their deployment to become the new norm."

"Now it is up to one of the most divisive, least productive Congresses in history to authorize an intervention and protect the credibility and viability of a US response to Assad's horrific crimes against humanity," Moran concluded.

Congressman Frank Wolf of the 10th District of Virginia was among the 116 members of Congress who wrote a letter to President Obama asking him to seek their approval before using military force in Syria. You can see that letter here: http://www.wusa9.com/news/article/272887/188/Lawmakers-want-President-to-seek-Congress-OK-before-military-force-in-Syria

Wolf also released a statement on Monday, saying that if a vote were held on military action that day, he would vote against a strike. He also sent a letter to President Obama, which reads:

Dear Mr. President:

Few things are weightier for elected officials than matters of national security involving war and peace. These issues come to the fore as your administration has asked Congress to consider military intervention in Syria. I welcome your decision to seek congressional authorization before committing U.S. military assets in Syria as I believe this is not only a constitutionally sound course of action but, as you noted in your remarks this past weekend, our "country will be stronger" having had this debate.

The war in Syria cannot be understood outside of the broader context of regional sectarian violence. Whatever happens in Syria will have a direct impact on the Sunni-Shia divide, the future of Christians and other ancient religious minorities who are increasingly imperiled in that part of the world, the stability of strategic neighbors, including Lebanon and Jordan, and the fate of our critical ally Israel. Furthermore, it is safe to assume that the Iranian regime and terrorist elements throughout the region that have clearly stated murderous aims are carefully watching as events unfold.

In fact, respected counterterrorism expert Bruce Hoffman warns: "Indeed, Core Al Qaeda's attraction to Syria is nothing less than irresistible. After Al Qaeda missed the opportunities to intervene or assert itself in the seismic events that initiated the 'Arab Spring' in Tunisia and Egypt in early 2011 and saw itself relegated to only a supporting role in Libya, al-Zawahiri doubtless regards the Syrian civil war as a key opportunity with which to burnish Al Qaeda's credentials and demonstrate its relevance. Even more so, Syria's geographic proximity to both neighboring Jordan and Israel realizes a Core Al Qaeda dream: bringing it to the borders of precisely the pro-Western, insufficiently Islamic Arab monarchy that the organization has long despised in Jordan and to the very gates of its most detested foe, Israel." In short, the stakes could not be higher.

That said, in all candor, I continue to have deep reservations about any U.S military action in Syria. While I deplore the use of chemical weapons, and have been grieved by the images out of Syria, especially those involving innocent children, I remain concerned that any U.S. military action could embolden - and even strategically aid - the radical Al Qaeda-connected jihadist element that is increasingly present among the legitimate Syrian opposition. Further, additional civilian casualties must be weighed along with the catalyzing effect that the images of these casualties will most assuredly have on individuals and groups throughout the Middle East who already possess deep animosity toward our nation.

In light of the complexity of the situation, and our moral obligation to ensure that every diplomatic avenue has been exhausted, I urge you to pull together what I will call the Syria Advisory Group, comprised of internationally recognized diplomats, statesmen and military officers to provide consultation to yourself and senior members of your administration and to be utilized as strategic envoys and negotiators in Damascus and elsewhere. The individuals I have in mind have decades of diplomatic experience, relationships in the region and are above the national political fray.

From the diplomatic arena you could bring in former Secretary of State Jim Baker, who has extensive experience in the Middle East and served as co-chair of the Iraq Study Group; former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; Ambassador Edward Djerejian who served as U.S ambassador to Syria and Israel and has a distinguished record of service in eight administrations; Ambassador Theodore Kattouf who served as U.S. ambassador to Syria from 2001-2003; Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who immediately preceded Kattouf in Syria from 1999-2001 and also served as U.S. ambassador in Iraq, Pakistan, Kuwait and Lebanon. Statesmen could include former Congressman Lee Hamilton who served as chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in addition to serving alongside Baker as co-chair of the Iraq Study Group (ISG) and former Senator Chuck Robb who also served on the ISG. In the military realm you could invite seasoned individuals like Generals John Abizaid, Anthony Zinni and David Barno.
This is not an exhaustive list by any stretch. There may be other names that come to mind not to mention unconventional, but potentially strategic actors, like the Vatican. The Syria Advisory Group would simply buttress the work already being done by your administration working closely with you, Secretaries John Kerry and Chuck Hagel and Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, who in addition to having served as ambassador to Jordan was also U.S. ambassador to Russia, a nation with clearly stated interests in Syria which could prove to be a more willing partner outside of the United Nations framework. Ultimately the aim of these diplomatic overtures would be to bring the relevant parties to the table in Geneva. Convening the Syria Advisory Group would not slow the pace of congressional consideration of military action; this would be a dual-track approach over the next two weeks until Congress votes on the resolution.

I travelled to the region in February and spent time with Syrian refugees in Lebanon hearing firsthand their accounts of the horrific civil war that was ripping apart their nation. I also heard, even then, of the influx of foreign jihadist fighters from place likes Libya, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt. To be sure there was a yearning for help, for humanitarian aid and refuge, but there were also cautionary words urging that America be clear-eyed about who the rebels are and what their vision is for a new Syria. Many months have passed since then. Thousands more have perished. And yet, serious questions remain about what a power vacuum in Syria might produce and how complex U.S. interests are best served.

I do not pretend to think that a Syria Advisory Group alone will lead to a just and lasting peace in a land where much blood has been spilt. But I see little downside in enlisting their aid and venture that a war-weary nation would embrace such an approach.

Best wishes.


Frank R. Wolf
Member of Congress

House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland released the following statement on Tuesday:

"I support the President's call for authorizing limited but decisive military action in response to the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons in Syria. While recognizing that the details of the authorization language have yet to be finalized, the use of chemical weapons, including against innocent children, is intolerable and cannot go unanswered.

"The Administration has presented compelling evidence that these horrific weapons caused over one thousand deaths and that they were launched from areas controlled by government forces into neighborhoods that were known opposition strongholds. Investigations by our allies confirm these facts, and it is in our strong national security interest to act decisively.

"As the world's leading democracy, as a defender of justice and human rights, and as a cosignatory of the Chemical Weapons Convention, it is essential that the United States respond in a way that will effectively deter the further use of these deadly weapons by the Assad regime and substantially degrade the capability to employ such weapons and agents. Further, our response sends a clear message to all other nations and non-state actors who are considering the development or deployment of weapons of mass destruction that the United States will not stand idly by if they do so.

"Unless the community of nations, led by the United States, makes an unambiguous stand in support of international laws and norms that preclude the use of these heinous weapons, this will not be the last time we see them used. The peace and security of the United States, the Middle East, and, indeed, of our world depends on making sure that the consequences of using weapons of mass destruction are absolutely clear and inevitable.

"I appreciate the President's determination that Congress, as the people's representatives, must be part of the decision on how to move forward. Our action will ultimately be stronger for it. Congress should now give the President the authority he needs to make good on our promise to those responsible for these heinous chemical attacks."

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia released the following statement, saying he would vote for the "option to use military force":

"I intend to vote to provide the President of the United States the option to use military force in Syria. While the authorizing language will likely change, the underlying reality will not. America has a compelling national security interest to prevent and respond to the use of weapons of mass destruction, especially by a terrorist state such as Syria, and to prevent further instability in a region of vital interest to the United States.

"Understanding that there are differing opinions on both sides of the aisle, it is up to President Obama to make the case to Congress and to the American people that this is the right course of action, and I hope he is successful in that endeavor.

"Bashar Assad's Syria, a state sponsor of terrorism, is the epitome of a rogue state, and it has long posed a direct threat to American interests and to our partners. The ongoing civil war in Syria has enlarged this threat.

"The Syrian conflict is not merely a civil war; it is a sectarian proxy war that is exacerbating tensions throughout the Muslim world. It is clear Iran is a principal combatant in this conflict, and its direct involvement is an integral part of Iran's bid to establish regional hegemony. Were Assad and his Iranian patrons to come out on top it would be a strategic victory for Iran, embolden Hizballah, and convince our allies that we cannot be trusted.

"Furthermore, sectarian tensions and extremist terrorism are already spilling over beyond Syria's borders, with terrorist attacks and assassinations on the rise in neighboring countries. It is not just an abstract theory that the Syrian conflict threatens the stability of key American partners in the region. It is a reality.

"Beyond the obvious regional interests, a failure to adequately respond to the use of chemical weapons and compel the end of this conflict on terms beneficial to America and our partners only increases the likelihood of future WMD use by the regime, transfer to Hizballah, or acquisition by Al Qaeda. No one wants to be asking why we failed to act if the next time Sarin is used it is in the Paris or New York subway.

"The United States' broader policy goal, as articulated by the President, is that Assad should go, and President Obama's redline is consistent with that goal and with the goal of deterring the use of weapons of mass destruction. It is the type of redline virtually any American President would draw. Now America's credibility is on the line. A failure to act when acting is in America's interests and when a red line has been so clearly crossed will only weaken our ability to use diplomacy, economic pressure, and other non-lethal tools to remove Assad and deter Iran and other aggressors.

"There are no easy solutions and a one-off military strike is not by itself an adequate strategy, but I am convinced that the risks of inaction outweigh the risks of a limited intervention. And a well-designed and well executed strike that both deters the use of chemical weapons and diminishes the capacity of the Assad regime can contribute to the achievement of a clear and attainable goal: the ultimate displacement of the Assad regime by moderate elements within the opposition. That is why it is imperative that the Administration continue to identify and support those moderate elements who are battling both Assad and Al Qaeda.

"Should the Commander-in-Chief decide to use military force, I hope he will do so judiciously and with close and continuing consultation with the Congress."

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, issued the following statement:

"I appreciate that the President has chosen to seek congressional authorization for this action, particularly since many Members, like me, have very serious questions about the path ahead that need to be answered in order to make an informed decision. As we have seen over the past decade, the use of military force is one of the most grave actions our nation can take, and it often has consequences that are impossible to foresee.

"In this case, we must understand in the clearest terms the objective of a strike against Syria. We must understand how we will achieve that objective, including whether allies will join our efforts, and how long it may take. We must understand, as best we can, the risk of collateral damage, including civilian deaths. If our objective is not regime change, we must understand how we will measure success, particularly if civilian deaths using conventional weapons continue or even increase after any U.S. strike. Finally, if we do not act, we must understand the ramifications for the Assad regime, the Syrian people, and our own nation.

"I commend the President for consulting with Congress on this critical national security issue, and I thank the Administration for the information it has provided to date. As Congress engages in this debate in the coming days, I believe these are the questions shared by all Americans."

U.S. Senator for Virginia Tim Kaine said in a release last Wednesday:

"Today I voted for a limited authorization for the use of military force in Syria to respond to Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons to kill civilians, including more than 400 children. A failure to respond to such a blatant violation of longstanding international norms not only signals an acceptance of this atrocity, it also jeopardizes the lives of our servicemembers in combat both today and in the future. For years, countries have refrained from using chemical weapons on our servicemembers because of this international standard and for their safety, we must continue to defend this principle.

"The resolution approved by the Committee today clearly states that there will be no U.S. combat troops inside Syria, and it is limited in scope. I applaud the President's decision to come to Congress for authorization, something that I have called for publicly since the debate over Syria began. Our nation is stronger in military matters when we act in a united fashion. Our servicemembers must be able to rely on the full support of their political leadership when asked to defend our nation. I now call on the full Senate to vote in favor of this authorization. The use of chemical weapons to kill innocent men, women, and children is intolerable and there must be a consequence."

Congressman Gerry Connolly of the 10th District of Virginia issued a resolution with Congressman Chris Van Hollen which reads:

"Dear Colleague:

We write to urge your support for our proposal to significantly limit the scope, duration and purpose of an authorization to use military force in Syria. We believe it is in the national security interest of the United States, as well as in support of basic human decency, to enforce the almost 90 year international ban on the use of chemical weapons to prevent the future use of poison gas against innocent civilians in Syria or others, including Americans, in future conflicts. We also believe that -- with the exception of the limited purpose of deterring the use of poison gas -- it would be be against our national security interests for the United States to become directly engaged militarily in the ongoing Syrian Civil War.

We believe that the draft resolution presented by the Obama Administration is far too broad and could open the door to large scale military involvement in Syria and the region. We will not support that resolution. We are proposing an alternative which is far more limited in scope, duration, and purpose. Our proposal, which is attached, includes the following four elements:

-- it prohibits any American forces on the ground in Syria;

-- it limits the duration of the authority to 60 days;

-- during that 60 day period, it prohibits the President from repeating the use of force beyond the initial punitive strikes unless the President certifies to Congress that the Syrian forces have repeated their use of chemical weapons;

-- it limits the purpose of military force to the narrow objective articulated by the President, which is to deter the repeated USE of chemical weapons rather than the broader goal of the stopping the stockpiling or proliferation of a range of weapons. That broader goal is a worthy one, but our proposal would not authorize the use of military force to accomplish it in this instance.

We believe that the resolution we are proposing would accomplish the twin objectives of 1) upholding the international ban and deterring the future use of chemical weapons; and 2) narrowing the scope of action to prevent the United States from getting dragged militarily into the Syrian Civil War. We understand that there are risks to any military action, but we believe those risked are outweighed by the risk of doing nothing in the face of the flagrant violation of international norms that has resulted in the mass killings of innocent men, women and children from poison gas.

It is our view that a negotiated settlement is the only viable long term solution to the war in Syria that has drawn in proxy powers from throughout the region. We also believe that the goal of a negotiated settlement is entirely consistent with the goal of deterring the horrible use of poison gas against innocent civilians in Syria today and in other conflicts tomorrow."

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