Thursday, September 5, 2013

To strike or not to strike: The S.C. delegation on intervening in Syria

U.S. House, Senate members react

Posted by Corey Hutchins on Thu, Sep 5, 2013 at 4:52 PM

Portraits of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad - FLICKR USER JAMES_GORDON_LOSANGELES
  • Flickr user james_gordon_losangeles
  • Portraits of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
This week President Barack Obama said he would ask Congress to support using military force to punish the Syrian government for unleashing a chemical weapons attack in the country's ongoing civil war.

Such an intervention by the U.S. military would come in the form of air strikes, not with American boots on the ground. On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 10-7 to support such a plan. The full U.S. Senate could vote on the matter next week. (You can make up your own mind about whether GOP Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul plans a filibuster.) 

The White House blames Syrian President Bashar Assad for an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack killing some 1,400 civilians, hundreds of them children. The Syrian government denies responsibility, saying it was the work of rebels who are trying to depose Assad.

Members of Congress have signaled that they're bitterly split on intervening, an issue that doesn't fall down along party lines.

Here in South Carolina, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham has, since at least May, been calling for air strikes on the Syrian government in support of rebel forces. 

“We should have Patriot missiles batteries inside Syria protecting the rebels,” he said during a May 29 news conference in Columbia. “We should start bombing the airfields using cruise missiles. It wouldn’t take much to change the power.”

That was prior to allegations that Assad had used chemical weapons to gas his own people, and Graham has continued support for intervention, with caveats, such as aiding only what he called "trained and armed, vetted opposition leaders." A spokesman stressed Graham has been talking about how to help the Syrian rebels for more than two years.

Speaking to The Washington Post, Graham put Congress in three camps when it comes to the issue.

The “slippery slope” group who don’t want to slide into another Iraq, the “liberal/libertarian group who doesn’t want to do anything,” and the “change the balance of power” group. He said, “I’m in the balance of power group.” He said it is possible to bring together the “slippery slope” and the “change the balance” of power group if the plan in Syria is limited but robust strikes followed by significant aid (including military aid) to the rebels and the cooperation of regional players like Turkey and Jordan.

But Graham might be lonely among South Carolina's delegation in Washington, D.C.

A majority of the state's U.S. House members strongly oppose military intervention in Syria. They include U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford of Charleston, Joe Wilson of the Midlands, and Trey Gowdy and Jeff Duncan of the Upstate, all Republicans.

Graham's colleague, Republican U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, who Haley appointed to fill Jim DeMint's role when he resigned in January, says it's important for Congress to debate the issue and vote on it before taking any military action. 

"Any action taken must be in the best interests of the United States," he said in a statement. "I believe we are still in the process of making that determination and I will certainly oppose any authorizing resolution that does not specifically exclude U.S. boots on the ground in Syria. I also believe that we need to see a very specific strategy for what the administration hopes to accomplish through an armed attack before we can hold an up-or-down vote.”

In the Upstate, Gowdy told constituents “the case has not been made” to him yet for why America should intervene.

Duncan says those he represents don't want to get involved.

“Not a one member in my district in South Carolina or the emails of people that have contacted my office say 'go to Syria and fight this regime,'” Duncan said, according to NPR. “To the letter, they say, 'no, do not go into Syria. Don't get involved in their civil war.'”

Mick Mulvaney, who represents the sprawling Fifth District that encompasses the upper part of South Carolina below Charlotte and into the heart of the state's tobacco country, told The Rock Hill Herald that he's undecided. 

“What American interest is served by getting involved in the civil war with Syria? I don't see it,” he told the paper, adding that he's prepared to vote against authorizing a strike. While he said he's against legislation that “can be used as an excuse to get involved in the broader civil war,” he would consider action only as a way to reinforce international protocols about the use of chemical weapons, he told the Herald.

Tom Rice, the Republican congressman who represents the Pee Dee and Myrtle Beach region, said he doesn't think “just blindly sending a couple missiles over there is going to accomplish anything," according to WPDE-TV in North Carolina.  "And if we do commit any assets, I want it to be handed toward a meaningful goal,” he said. 

According to an aide to Jim Clyburn, South Carolina's lone Democratic congressman, nothing has changed since a Sept. 3 statement he delivered on social media. 

"Issues of war & peace require thoughtful consideration," Tweeted Clyburn, the third-ranking Democrat in Washington. “I reserve judgment on Syria until a resolution and more details are forthcoming.” 

Meanwhile, Joint Base Charleston, the military facility in North Charleston that maintains a fleet of C-17 cargo planes, isn't talking about any preparations it's making should Congress authorize an air strike in Syria.

"The United States Government has yet to determine what new actions, if any, our country will take in the on-going Syrian Civil War,” says Air Force spokesman staff sergeant William A. O'Brien. “Until that determination is made, it is premature to speculate on the utilization of resources or personnel."

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