The White House has whipsawed on possible U.S. military action in Syria. First, the Secretary of State went public with an urgent plea to address the abhorrent use of chemical weapons. The President seemed to agree on the urgency, then slowed down and said he’d seek congressional approval. Later, when congressional approval was far from assured, the President embraced the idea of a diplomatic offer spearheaded by the Russians.
As a Senator facing a vote on military action, I took every opportunity to follow the options and stay informed about the latest intelligence. I went to the White House for a secured briefing about Syria with Vice President Joe Biden. I listened to the President directly when he came to Capitol Hill to talk with senators, as well as his speech on TV. It was disappointing when the White House cancelled a briefing for Republican senators with top national security advisers. The briefing would have been useful, since the situation remains fluid. Since the Syrian conflict began, reports indicate that as many as 100,000 Syrians have been killed. There might be as many as two million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries. The use of chemical weapons gave the situation a cruel new dimension.
I appreciate the complicated issues the President faces. Still, I don't think the case for military action has been made. From what Iowans have told me, they strongly oppose military action by the United States. They have concerns and questions about what the President has proposed. If the goal is to deter and degrade Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons, how would a limited strike achieve this goal? What are the risks of military action? What is the U.S. national interest in striking Syria? I’m still leaning against the authorization for the use of force that’s been presented. Military action should be the last resort. The U.S.-Russian agreement on a framework for eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile has potential as an alternative. Still, it’s unclear that Syria will fulfill its obligations. I’ll continue to evaluate the details of the diplomatic agreement as they evolve.