Senate committee passes resolution authorizing ‘limited’ military strikes against Syria

SOURCE: foreign.senate.gov

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday approved a resolution to authorize the use of military force against the Syrian government in response to the Aug. 21st chemical weapons attack that killed more than 1,400 civilians east of Damascus. 

Read more: Kerry, Hagel & Dempsey urge Senators to authorize military force in response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons

The Ghouta chemical attack was the latest escalation in Syria’s two-year-old civil war, which has killed more than 100,000 people and forced more than 2 million Syrians to seek refuge in neighboring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq, destabilizing the Middle East region.

The bill for the “authorization for the use of military force against the government of Syria to respond to the use of chemical weapons” passed the committee by a vote of 10 to 7 with one Senator, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, voting present. The bill is expected to be debated and voted on when Congress returns next week.

“This is one of the most weightiest issues that any member will cast a vote on,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “I believe it is a declaration of our values. It sends a clear message that the world cannot and will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons anywhere.”

Read more: Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s vote to approve joint resolution to authorize military force against Syria on Sept. 4, 2013

The bill would authorize President Barack Obama to use military force to “degrade” the Syrian government’s capacity to use chemical weapons, deter Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from using such weapons of mass destruction in the future, and to prevent the transfer of such weapons to extremist groups in Syria.

The President’s authority will last for 60 days, with the option of a one-time 30-day extension. Congress will have the opportunity to pass a resolution of disapproval at that time if lawmakers oppose the extension.

The resolution would authorize only “limited” military actions – meaning no U.S. troops on the ground – against “legitimate military targets” in Syria. However, the Senate bill would upgrade both lethal and non-lethal military aid to “vetted elements of the Syrian oppositions forces” such as the Free Syrian Army.

(In the past, U.S. military assistance to the Syrian opposition has been largely limited to non-lethal capabilities because of fears that weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists, including Al Qaeda, who have joined various rebel factions in Syria.)

In addition to deterring Assad from using chemical weapons again, the Senate resolution called for the military force be applied in such a way that would help “change the momentum on the battlefield in Syria so as to create favorable conditions for a negotiated settlement” to bring about a new democratic government to power.

The President is also required to report to Congress the administration’s integrated strategy involving diplomatic, political, economic, and military efforts to achieve a negotiated political settlement needed to end the conflict.

The White House issued the following statement in response to committee’s passage of the resolution:

“We commend the Senate for moving swiftly and for working across party lines on behalf of our national security. We believe America is stronger when the President and Congress work together. The military action authorized in the resolution would uphold America’s national security interests by degrading Assad’s chemical weapons capability and deterring the future use of these weapons, even as we pursue a broader strategy of strengthening the opposition to hasten a political transition in Syria. We will continue to work with Congress to build on this bipartisan support for a military response that is narrowly tailored to enforce the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons, and sufficient to protect the national security interests of the United States of America.”

Although the bill passed the committee with bipartisan support, some Republican as well as Democratic lawmakers voted against it citing the risk of drawing the U.S. deeper into Syria’s civil war, unintended consequences of worsening the situation on the ground, and further destabilization in the region.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said although the resolution passed by the committee was an improvement over the administration’s proposed draft, he feared that U.S. military strikes would make things worse in Syria in the short run. Quoting from an article written by Steven Cook, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Murphy said Assad will remain defiant despite the military strike and that his patrons, Iran and Hezbollah, would step up support for Assad, meaning more weapons and foreign fighters flowing into Syria.

“I’ve heard Secretary [John] Kerry say that the one thing we know is that if we do nothing, the situation will continue to deteriorate. This [scenario], though, sounds even worse,” Murphy said. “I simply believe that the risks of action today outweigh the risk of inaction.”

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) expressed concern that even limited U.S. military involvement will likely pull the U.S. more deeply into the Syrian civil war “with no clear end game.”

“This policy moves the United States towards greater involvement in the Syrian civil war and an increasing regional conflict,” Udall argued. “This is a very complicated sectarian civil war. Some of the rebels share our values and want an open society. Many others are allied with Al Qaeda and a greater threat to the United States than President Assad ever was.”

Pointing that Assad could not continue his ruthless ways without the support of Russia and China, Udall said the focus of the administration and the international community’s response to the attacks should be on addressing Assad’s source of support.

“Assad would not be able to maintain his grip on power if he were not being supported from outside. The full force of international outrage should come down on those nations that are refusing to allow the U.N. to act and find a solution,” said Udall.

Not only would U.S. military strikes put the U.S. on “shaky legal ground internationally,” Udall said they would allow China and Russia to “cynically” hold the high moral ground and justify their support for Assad’s regime.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said he remained “unconvinced that the use of force here will work.”

“In fact, I believe the U.S. military action of the type contemplated here may prove to be counter-productive,” said Rubio. “After a few days of those missile strikes, it will allow Assad, for example, to emerge and claim that he took on the United States and survived…I also think this action could unleash a series of events that could further destabilize the region.”

Instead, Rubio said the administration should focus on “a multifaceted plan” to help the Syrians replace Assad with a “secular, moderate government” by arming vetted elements of the opposition and impose “severe sanctions” against individuals and institutions that supply weapons and petroleum to Assad’s regime.

 

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