CAPITOL HILL — U.S. lawmakers of both political parties are supportive of President Barack Obama’s decision to delay possible military action against Syria while diplomatic efforts evolve. But, members of Congress differ sharply on the feasibility of eliminating all of Syria’s chemical weapon stockpiles, despite Damascus’ stated willingness to do so.
One day after President Obama told the nation that he will give diplomacy a chance to neutralize the threat posed by Syria’s chemical weapons, Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern said he is relieved.
“I am happy. It seems we are not going to war," he said. "I think that is a good thing. And I hope that this proposal by the Russians is going to be taken seriously.”
On the other side of the Capitol, Republican Senator John Barrasso said Obama had little choice but to ask Congress to delay votes authorizing military strikes against Syria.
“The president pushed the pause button. And I agree with that, because if the vote were held in the House, he would be lucky to get 100 votes [out of 435]. And the vote would not, I believe, pass the Senate,” he said.
On the Senate floor, Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid stressed that U.S. military action has not been ruled out.
“It is in Syria’s power to avoid these strikes. But that will require swift and decisive action on the part of the Assad regime to relinquish these weapons. We need a diplomatic solution to succeed, but just saying we want one does not mean it will happen,” said Reid.
Senator Barrasso is skeptical diplomacy will work.
“I still do not trust the Russians. We cannot even verify that they are destroying their own chemical weapons, let alone [that they] would have control over Syria’s,” he said.
Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown is cautious but hopeful.
“It is a trust-but-verify situation, of course. But there is hope that this can be done in a more comprehensive way where we get rid of the chemical weapons, [rather] than a military strike, which has all kinds of unforeseen consequences,” he said.
Many lawmakers note that their constituents overwhelmingly oppose military intervention in Syria. Republican Senator Dan Coats says, however the Syria crisis plays out, America should not become embroiled in another faraway conflict.
“I think our interests are not in resolving these wars. We have proven that - we are zero-for-three [no record of success] in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan," said Coats. "The risk of going zero-for-four lies out there with Syria. We have to keep our focus on the jihadists, on those who do not want to control a Middle Eastern country but want to take us here in America.”
In the meantime, Coats described America’s current posture towards Syria as “in limbo-land,” and says he worries about the signals Washington is sending to America’s adversaries.