News / USA

    US Congress Questions Rationale for Striking Syria

    President Barack Obama speaks about Syria during a joint news conference with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt in Stockholm, Sept. 4, 2013.
    President Barack Obama speaks about Syria during a joint news conference with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt in Stockholm, Sept. 4, 2013.
    President Barack Obama’s abrupt decision to seek congressional authorization for striking Syria has had at least one salutary effect so far: it has given Americans and their elected representatives a chance to express serious reservations about the limits of U.S. military intervention in shaping troubled foreign societies.
     
    Whichever way Congress votes in giving President Obama the authorization he seeks, the congressional hearings this week have been extraordinary for their introspection and bipartisan nature.
     
    Strange bedfellows have come together in both agreement and disagreement about the wisdom of hitting Syria in the aftermath of the alleged killing of hundreds of civilians in a Damascus suburb Aug. 21 with the nerve agent, sarin.  A trio of U.S. war veterans – Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey – have struggled to convince members of Congress that “limited” strikes on Syria will deter Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from using chemical weapons again.
     
    The three also wanted to convince Congress that such strikes would not embroil the U.S. in a wider war, and show other U.S. adversaries such as Iran that Washington is serious about upholding red lines against the development, proliferation or use of weapons of mass destruction.
     
    The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 10-7 on Wednesday in favor of giving the administration up to 90 days to conduct the strikes. But at a hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee that took place while the Senate panel voted, isolationist Tea Party Republicans and anti-war Democrats appeared to outnumber neoconservatives and humanitarian interventionists.
     
    ‘Who are the good guys?’
     
    One of the toughest exchanges took place between Hagel and Representative Tom Marino, a Republican from Pennsylvania. Marino said he feared that hitting Assad would benefit the Syrian opposition, which includes Islamic extremists who hate the United States.
     
    “Who are the good guys over there in Syria?” Marino asked. “Do you trust these people?”
     
    Hagel, a decorated Vietnam War veteran who voted for the Iraq war but quickly came to regret that, conceded that there are “various groups that are part of the opposition.” Then Hagel tried to change the subject by saying that “the focus is not on good guys or bad guys, but on a narrow authorization” for the use of force to degrade Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons again.
     
    Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, right, appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sept. 3, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington.Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, right, appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sept. 3, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
    x
    Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, right, appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sept. 3, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
    Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, right, appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sept. 3, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
    Kerry also tried to emphasize the narrow nature of the strikes the administration contemplates, insisting that, “I don’t believe we’re going to war.” However, Dempsey admitted that attacking Syria was “an act of war” and that the United States had to be prepared for a variety of responses, including terrorism and cyber attacks.
     
    Overall, the hearings underlined what public opinion polls have shown – that most Americans do not support direct U.S. military intervention in yet another Middle Eastern country. After a decade of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan – with no dramatic improvement in either society despite the outlay of trillions of U.S. dollars and the loss of thousands of American and foreign lives -- the American public is weary of continuing to bear the burden of being what Kerry, echoing former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, called “the indispensable nation.”
     
    The Obama administration is also having trouble defending its goals for the Syria mission – a kind of “Goldilocks,” not-too-hot, not-too-cold series of actions meant to deter Assad from using chemical weapons again and uphold U.S. credibility without giving too much advantage to rebels who have also committed serious human rights abuses.
     
    ‘There are no good guys’
     
    Jeff Duncan, a congressman from South Carolina, summed up the feelings of many Americans when he said, “We shouldn’t be drug into someone else’s civil war where there are no good guys.”
     
    Kerry, Hagel and Dempsey tried to counter those sentiments by warning there would serious consequences if the U.S. doesn’t respond to Assad’s apparently massive use of chemical arms. They said a failure to act would lead to more innocent civilians being gassed, chemical weapons potentially proliferating and threatening U.S. military forces abroad and even the U.S. homeland.
     
    Kerry and Hagel also insisted that Iran would be emboldened to continue a nuclear program that could give it the capability to make bombs.
     
    But if Iran was supposed to be the administration’s trump card, it was mentioned as a factor in their decision making by only seven of 35 members of the House committee who participated in Wednesday’s hearing.

    And Bruce Riedel, a veteran expert on the region, questioned the Obama administration’s linking of Iran and Syria.

    While “the Israelis want us to bomb Syria because they desperately fear Obama will back down on Iran, the two cases are very different,” Riedel said. “Syria is using WMD against its own people; Iran is developing a capability which it wants for deterrence.

    “But they are alike in two keys ways,” he continued. “First military action against either Syria or Iran will have unintended consequences probably unforeseen. Limited strikes can grow into open-ended campaigns that become increasingly costly.”
     
    Price is a factor
     
    Indeed, many in Congress cited the likely financial costs of another American intervention as a reason for caution when the U.S. is short of funds to deal with urgent domestic needs.
     
    On Wednesday, Hagel admitted the price tag for even limited strikes would likely be in the “tens of millions” of U.S. dollars. Kerry said unspecified Arab countries had offered “quite significant financial support” and that “some of them have said they will carry the whole cost” of U.S. strikes. But when pressed to name the countries that were offering to take part in the actual mission, Kerry listed only Turkey and France.
     
    Under questioning, Kerry conceded that the administration had more work to do to persuade Americans that U.S. military strikes on Syria are worth the risks. Kerry also promised that President Obama would address the American people from the Oval Office to lay out the case for intervention in another Middle Eastern conflict.

    Barbara Slavin

    Barbara Slavin is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center and a correspondent for Al-Monitor.com, a website specializing in the Middle East. She is the author of a 2007 book, Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the US and the Twisted Path to Confrontation, and is a regular commentator on U.S. foreign policy and Iran on NPR, PBS, C-SPAN and the Voice of America.

    You May Like

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Iddi Yire from: Accra, Ghana
    September 07, 2013 8:35 AM
    My plead with the good America people is not to attack Syria. Can you imagine giving an upper hand to rebels who could kill and eat the heart of their fellow Syrians because the belong to the governments side. Let's learn from history, the enemy you know is better than the devil you don't know. Prez Obama, Pls don't attack Syria in any way. Two mistakes does not make a right.
    In Response

    by: jeth from: philippines
    September 08, 2013 2:41 AM
    My advised to the american people is these,YOU must stop President Obama in his plan to strike syria for YOU know that it is ILLEGAL ,IMMORAL,and COSTLY.See what happened to LIBYA they are now in chaos militants are roaming the country freely.The alleged used of chemical weapons by the assad regime is still UNVERIFIED,there's still no hard evidence that will point to the assad regime the RUSSIAN even submitted a 100 PAGE REPORT to the UNITED NATION that indicate that the REBELS are the one who USED CHEMICAL WEAPON FIRST.

    by: Ed from: Brick NJ
    September 06, 2013 6:49 PM
    All this talk, talk, talk does not recognize the reason we should strike Syria. They have used chemical weapons in violation of a treaty signed by many nations at the end of WWI when it was used by Germany against the Allies. Do we want any country to think it`s now okay to use chemical weapons with impunity? Strike Syria as a reminder that this will not be tolerated. Too bad Mister Obama is going around with his hat in hand begging for approval. Good Lord, Mister President, show some backbone!
    In Response

    by: Ramnarayan from: Florida, USA
    September 07, 2013 3:49 AM
    All the world and most of Americans are asking for is do we really know who the "they" are, before taking actions. Nobody disagrees with the fact that the chemical attach happened. Our strength should not be because we have the capability to respond with force, but it should be based on truth and not wishful thinking. .

    by: JL from: California
    September 06, 2013 12:19 PM
    "Serious reservations" is an understatement

    by: Ramnarayan from: Florida, USA
    September 06, 2013 7:51 AM
    Obama and the teams credibility is at stake. Let us not mistake it with the credibility of us americans. Granted, these politicans are supposed to represent all Americans, the reality is that they only represent themselves and the special interests. Obama has neither international support nor the support of most of us Americans. As a Democrat leaning voter, it is facinating to me that in this case, it is most of the republicans are likely to oppose, MaCain and Gramm notwithstanding. Let all the evidence come out, including not just the chemical weapons were used, but who used it. Then US will certainly able to get a consensus across the globe. We need to stop projecting the wild west image in dealing with this problem.
    Mr. Obama- Please listen to the public, not just your advisors.

    by: Sani Aliyu Hunkuyi(Mr.) from: Nigeria
    September 06, 2013 6:41 AM
    The USA President Obama should remember himself as a winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize award for promoting peace to the World should not be derailed by the likes of Godwin sending comments to VOA from Nigeria. In fact I felt disappointed to hear President Obama going round to consult with countries like France viewed as a wicked country ever in the forefront of destabilizing the peace in the World. Why I advise against going to War on Syria is because the Commentator (Godwin) from Nigeria should know that we have Nigerian Muslims extremely loyal to Iran. I can swear by Allah that if these Iranian loyalists are invited by Iran to join the war on the side of Syrian Government they will come and fight to the end.

    They will see it as Islamic War(Jihad) endorsed by Allah especially if the Islamic Leader of Iran approves it as such. I urge the Republicans and Democrats of the USA to be careful not to allow the Israelites to take the USA into another war which the USA this time will not win. A war viewed as Islamic war the participants with such a belief will fight to the end as quoted from the chief of Iran's elite Quds Force unit. He was quoted by the Media that Iran will support Syria "until the end" in the face of possible US-led military strikes.



    by: Anonymous
    September 06, 2013 2:48 AM
    Well the pro Israel lobby wants this war, so America must be made to bend to its will, whats new here? I have no idea why this attack is so necessary, what are they threatening? our oil supply's, an economic blockade, a military attack on the US? what is it? Oh they supposedly used some chems? Well if you know they did, show us the proof? Show us some real evidence and dont shake an empty vial at the UN. The world does NOT want this attack, only Israel does. There are other ways to deal with this,, unless you just want to continue the crusades.
    In Response

    by: Sani Aliyu Hunkuyi(Mr.) from: Nigeria
    September 07, 2013 8:06 PM
    If I may advise Israelites, they are better-off if they seek for dialogue with Iran so that they sit on a round table to express the fears of each other and sign a peace treaty. Israelites are viewed and it is the belief of Muslims that they are ethnic group descent from our respected Prophet Abraham through his son Isaac who himself is believed by us(Muslims) that Isaac was a prophet sent as messenger of Allah(i.e the true God). Muslims can marry an Israelite woman. This is because of Muslims' common belief in one true God (Allah) with Jews(i.e. Isralites) and Christians but that as Governments change currency, Islam is the latest acceptable religion from Allah. And so if you Google Search and ask you will see that a Muslim is permitted in the Muslims Holy Book of Quran that a Muslim can marry an Israelite woman or a Christian woman despite the difference in religion.
    Therefore I cannot see why Israelites are too harsh against Muslims. Instead, it is my view that it may not be against the teaching of Islam if the Muslims in Middle-East invite Israel for a negotiation to pay for the disputed lands being occupied by Israelites and may be pay ransom/compensation for the Palestinians who were killed. Israelites are very rich and so they should be able to pay the negotiated sum and also pay for any additional land they may want to occupy in the Middle-East. In other words, Israel should be willing to acquired the lands peacefully and not by force. It is in the Quran that there is no compulsion to accept Islam. But that the Quran makes it clear that any Jew, Christian or follower of any religion who insist in dying on his/her religion and not accepting Islam then such a person should allow Muslims peacefully to practice Islam but that such a person who rejects Islam should be prepared to go to Hell right from the time he/she is put in the grave.


    by: Ben from: WA
    September 06, 2013 1:06 AM
    Why interfere? Muslims are killing fellow Muslims. Solves the issue of Islamist extremism.

    by: Ben DeDominicis from: Seoul, South Korea
    September 05, 2013 6:51 PM
    Israel has several hundred nuclear weapons, so it does not 'desperately fear' anyone. What it does fear is that if Iran and its Arab adversaries develop nuclear weapons, Israel will not have a free hand to deal with the Palestinians in annexing "Judea and Samaria" while establishing itself as the regional hegemon.

    by: Luis from: Florida
    September 05, 2013 6:42 PM
    This is a civil war within a country, not two countries at war. The U.S. has no bussiness getting involved. On top of that they are the enemies of the U.S. They are the ones that cheered when 9/11 happened. Let the Arab countries handle this problem.
    In Response

    by: Enuff Warz
    September 06, 2013 3:01 AM
    no they did not cheer, a few Palestinians did, these are Syrians. A lot of Israelis cheered too, know well the wrath of the US would befall these small states. The Pals cheered because US weapons have been killing them for 60 years and have been used to steal their land, why would they not cheer? I would if that had happened to me.

    by: Rose from: Canada
    September 05, 2013 6:32 PM
    "Kerry said unspecified Arab countries had offered “quite significant financial support” and that “some of them have said they will carry the whole cost” of U.S. strikes."

    Wow, who knew the US military was actually a mercenary army. Capitalism at it's best, I suppose.
    In Response

    by: Abibaal from: Norway
    September 09, 2013 5:17 AM
    A vote from the congress can secure to Obama a national(US) legitimacy and he can declare war between Dakota and Florida. On the other hand if he wants to attack Syria he needs international legitimacy if not the war on Syria will be against international laws and without international legitimacy
    In Response

    by: Enuff Warz
    September 06, 2013 2:56 AM
    we know these Arab countries, Saudis, Qataris, UAE etc, the usual suspects spending money to prop fellow dictators and to destroy Egypt's democracy, all in a bid to keep their claws on power, but the US is making a mistake and will get blamed for the misdeeds of these vile Arab countries, I am a Muslim and I can tell you that Saudi Arabia is the head of the snake, it is the main problem which gives birth to extremism yet for some strange reason the US does not want to give up these dinosaurs, their public despises them, stay away from these vultures USA.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.