Two of Washington’s senior lawmakers in Congress are concerned that a quick air strike to punish the Syrian government for using chemical weapons against its own people would draw the American military into another open-ended war, they said Wednesday.
“Above all else, I am worried that such action could drag the United States into a broader direct involvement in the conflict,” said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, who visited a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan this week.
The Obama administration is considering whether to use military force against Bashar Assad’s regime after reports that his government used chemical weapons to kill hundreds of its own people. President Barack Obama on Wednesday said he has not made a decision on what course of action to take.
Patty Murray contacted senior White House officials to express her concerns about the conflict expanding and pulling in American ground troops, she said.
“The use of chemical weapons, as well as conventional weapons, on innocent civilians in Syria is abhorrent and must end,” the Democratic senator from Shoreline said. “However, as the recent past has taught us, we must be exceedingly cautious in making any decision that holds the possibility of entangling our nation in a long, drawn-out conflict.”
A decade ago, Murray raised some of the same concerns when she voted against authorizing President George W. Bush to invade Iraq. Smith was one of two Washington state Democrats who supported the Bush administration’s plan.
Other lawmakers who represent the South Sound either couldn’t be reached or didn’t respond to a reporter’s inquiries Wednesday.
A spokesman for Sen. Maria Cantwell issued a statement late Wednesday that was similarly cautious to Smith’s and Murray’s positions.
“Senator Cantwell has serious questions about the strategic goals of a military strike in Syria and possible outcomes,” the statement said. “She looks forward to hearing more from the Obama administration on its strategy to promote a stable Syria and avoid open-ended involvement in an escalated regional conflict.”
Smith, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, this week visited the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, where more than 130,000 Syrians have fled. He also met with United Nations officials, as well as representatives from nongovernmental organizations working in the refugee camp.
He is traveling outside the U.S. on a multi-stop trip to the Middle East with other congressmen.
He said “the world must respond” to Syria’s reported use of chemical weapons in its civil war, but he favors stepping up military and humanitarian assistance to moderate Syrian opposition groups fighting to topple Assad. He said the U.S. must back those moderate groups to secure some influence in the country if Assad falls.
“To be clear, I am not calling for an open-ended commitment to remove the Assad regime, but that does not mean we cannot act in a way that is consistent with our interests and values,” Smith said.
He said he’s concerned that the civil war is empowering al-Qaida-linked organizations believed to be operating in the country against Assad’s regime.
Smith said he’s waiting on more details from the White House on military plans.
“Any potential use of military force will have long-term costs and will put our troops in harm’s way,” he said. “Simply lashing out with military force under the banner of ‘doing something’ will not secure our interests in Syria.”