WASHINGTON— High-ranking U.S. lawmakers of both major parties are urging prompt action in response to evidence that chemical weapons have been used in Syria.
The United States cannot ignore the deaths of hundreds of Syrians believed to have been exposed to some form of nerve agent or toxin, according to Congressman Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“We have to move, and we have to move quickly,” Engle said.
Engel spoke on the U.S. television program Fox News Sunday. He was joined by Senator Bob Corker, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“This [likely chemical weapons use] has happened. I think we will respond in a surgical way," said Corker.
No one in Congress is urging U.S. soldiers on the ground in Syria. Representative Engle says there is much the United States can do short of a troop deployment.
“I certainly would do cruise missile strikes,” Engel said. "You can do that without boots on the ground, without having Americans in harm’s way. You could destroy [Syrian President Bashar] Assad’s runways, you could destroy his munitions, his fuel. We could even destroy the Syrian air force if we wanted to.”
Engel said Congress should be involved in any military actions taken, but added its involvement need not precede any orders given by the president. Senator Corker said Obama should ask for legislative authorization to act as soon as Congress returns from its August recess. But he added regime change in Syria should remain the task of the Syrian people.
“I hope it is the kind of action that does not move us away from the policy we have right now of where we want to see the Syrian opposition group taking the lead on the ground," said Corker.
U.S. naval forces have moved closer to Syria, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says America’s military is prepared to act on any orders President Obama may give.