President Obama will address the nation tonight about his burning desire to start a new war in the Middle East. Intervening in the Syrian civil war would be an act of madness. Through talk of a “limited strike” and the McCain/Coons resolution which would allow us a broad, “boots on the ground” intervention on the side of radical Islamists, we must first remember one fact: once you start a war its course is out of your hands.
A military strike on Syria, however limited, would be an act of war against that nation. Their civil war has devolved into a conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims. Are we really prepared to side with Iran? Is it wise to get involved, once again, in another nation’s internal conflict? Did we learn nothing from Vietnam?
The Senate resolution proposed by Senators McCain and Coons is dangerous and allows broad latitude for a major intervention. The Russian proposal is very promising and, thus far, there has been no concrete evidence presented that the Assad government used chemical weapons.
The country is very apprehensive about believing anything our government says regarding weapons of mass destruction. Once burned, twice shy. One interesting facet of the debate is the opposition of right wing conservatives to react to a supposed use of chemical weapons. They widely used Saddam’s use of them ten years previously to justify invading Iraq.
Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico sent a wisely thought out missive about this issue yesterday:
The last week has been the most difficult I have experienced in my more than eight years in public office. What I share with you now will not win me any popularity awards, and some of you may well never forgive me for my decision today. All I ask is that you read this entire letter and seek to understand how I came to make this decision.
I have always believed that my decisions in public office should reflect my best judgment and what I believe to be the best course for our nation. Most of the time that leads to votes that are well aligned with most of you as constituents. Just as importantly, it means that I can look my children in the eye and explain my positions with honesty, never having to explain why a vote was the result of politics or pressure. Today, I am taking a position that I believe is in line with those values.
From my position on the Intelligence Committee, I have been briefed regularly for eight months now on developments in Syria. Those developments have been very difficult to watch. Most people only hear about these things on a news report, where it is difficult to imagine the scale and intensity of this violence. I have had a much closer view.
Bashar al-Assad is a dictator who has shown a willingness to reduce residential neighborhoods to rubble, to imprison and torture children, and who has watched callously as his actions have killed over a hundred thousand civilians and displaced millions of Syrian refugees.
Despite that, I remain of the belief that as a nation, we cannot become directly entangled in a civil war that we do not fully understand. It is for this reason that I do not think we should arm the Syrian rebels and I do not support sending American troops into this conflict.
However, over recent months I also learned of the facts that are now the subject of so much debate here and around the world. What I can tell you from my perspective, having seen the public evidence as well as much that remains classified, I do not have any doubt about the following facts:
One: a chemical weapons attack occurred on August 21;
Two: that attack was planned and carried out by Bashar al-Assad’s regime; and
Three: that as a result, hundreds of children and non-combatants were gassed to death in the suburbs of Damascus.
I have seen how Assad incrementally tests the international community as he employs more and more brutal tactics in order to cling to power. And I can tell you that August 21 was not just some anomaly, but that it is part of a long and predictable pattern of behavior.
What’s more, I believe that when any country chooses to ignore the international norms against chemical weapons, they have made a deeply immoral decision with worldwide implications, implications that the United States and the international community cannot ignore. If you want to understand why chemical weapons were singled out for international actions, you can watch videos that were taken in the aftermath of the Damascus attacks. These videos show the real effects of chemical weapons and are completely consistent with international forensic evidence showing that the agent was Sarin nerve gas. I would warn you not to view these with children in the room. They are real and they are horrible.
I know that we are a nation that is not only rightfully weary of war, but also jaded by the dishonest use of cooked intelligence reports that led to terrible mistakes in Iraq. But this is not Iraq and we have a moral obligation to deter Assad and every regime watching him from thinking that they can gas their people with impunity, commit genocide, or employ internationally prohibited weapons.
It is for this reason, and this reason alone, that I will support President Obama’s request for the authorization of use of military force.
I will seek to make sure that the resolution before the Senate remains narrow in scope and does not put American troops on the ground in another Middle Eastern war. But I believe that President Obama and the international community should be able to send a message to Bashar al-Assad: that he is not above international norms and that he will suffer real, military consequences should he choose to gas civilians.
I will continue to support additional foreign aid to alleviate the humanitarian and refugee crisis in Syria and neighboring countries, and I will also continue supporting diplomatic options so long as they are credible, verifiable, and enforceable.
While I know that my vote on this matter will be controversial, especially among some of my closest supporters, I want you to know that I have little doubt it is the right decision.
United States Senator
I stand with Sen. Heinrich, opposed to any war with Syria.