WASHINGTON – A Minnesota Republican congressman is leaning toward giving President Obama authority to launch a military strike against Syria.
Second District U.S. Rep. John Kline said on MPR News Wednesday that U.S. credibility is on the line in the decision following allegations that Syria’s government used chemical weapons against its own people. The wording of the authorization has to be limited, said Kline, but any strike also has to do real damage to Bashar al-Assad’s military.
“You’d have to destroy or greatly hinder his ability to propel these munitions across the border,” Kline said. “So, for example, if you’re Turkey, Israel, Jordan, you want to know that his, Assad’s ability to hurt you with these weapons is seriously degraded, and I think that’s the kind of thing you can do without putting troops on the ground and it makes a statement.”
Kline said based on the evidence he’s seen, he is 99 percent certain that Assad launched the chemical attack.
The latest Minnesota opponent of a military strike against Syria is 7th District U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, who announced Tuesday he opposes any intervention in that country.
Peterson, a Democrat who’s deeply involved in farm policy, does not often weigh in on foreign policy matters. But in a strongly worded statement, he said, “I don’t see how U.S. military action will accomplish anything toward ending the turmoil over there.”
Since video and images of a possible chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs emerged in the past weeks, the Obama Administration has been laying the groundwork for a cruise missile strike against the regime of Syrian President Assad and has requested congressional authorization for any operations in the area.
Peterson’s statement makes him the third member of Minnesota’s congressional delegation to unequivocally oppose any military action in the region. Political polar opposites Michele Bachmann and Rick Nolan have also come out strongly against a strike on the Syrian regime.
After a classified briefing for lawmakers on Sunday, Nolan, a Democrat, said in a statement, “I will vote and work against President Obama’s request for open-ended authority to launch military strikes against the Syrian army.”
Bachmann, a Republican, has also aligned herself with the non-interventionists even though she has often allied herself with the GOP’s neoconservative, interventionist wing in the past.
“I am adamantly opposed to President Obama starting another war in the Middle East and plan to vote against military intervention in Syria,” said Bachmann in a statement. “We have bad actors and bad options on both sides in Syria, with many of the rebels working with al Qaeda-affiliated groups.”
While not directly opposing a strike on Syria, 3rd District U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, a Republican, appeared to sympathize with opponents in a statement issued by his office on Sunday.
“I believe the President’s request for military action in Syria is too broad, too open-ended, too risky and does not identify a clear U.S. national interest for military engagement and putting U.S. troops in harms way,” said Paulsen.
So far, the strongest supporter of the Obama Administration’s policy appears to be DFL Sen. Al Franken. Franken rose to political prominence as a critic of the Bush Administration and its use of faulty intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq, but said in this instance the evidence of a chemical attack presented by the administration was “compelling.”
In an interview with MPR News, Franken said the U.S. could not let a long-standing international norm against the use of chemical weapons be violated by the Syrian government and emphasized the limited nature of the administration’s proposed plan of attack.
“This is not boots on the ground, this is sending cruise missiles in and this is a contained and limited engagement,” said Franken.
Fifth District U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison also appears to be leaning in favor of a strike against the Assad government. In an interview with MinnPost over the weekend, Ellison is quoted as saying, “I just don’t think the world can stand by and say that’s ok, that’s not our business, we don’t have to worry about it.”
The House and Senate will likely vote on resolutions to authorize operations in Syria next week.
UPDATE: 1st District U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, a Democrat, weighed in on MPR News’ All Things Considered. He said:
I have little doubt that the Assad regime did this. I certainly understand the moral implications and all the international norms of not allowing these to be violated. But I also think understanding the unintended consequences and how this makes the situation better need to be asked and that’s what Congress is doing right now.
I have had no one articulate to me clearly how this will make the situation either better in Syria or make America safer. And I think this whole belief that if we don’t act we lose our credibility and our moral standings is a false choice. We have numerous options to pursue. They may all be rejected and a military strike may be the only thing available. I just don’t understand why it’s the first option and the only option that’s being put on the table.