Congress Debates Obama Syria Attack
Politicians and activists argue the legality and aims of Obama’s Syria plan
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: The U.S. is one step closer to attacking Syria. On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a resolution granting President Obama the authority to conduct a strike against Syria. The ten-to-seven vote was split, but not on party lines. Two Democrats on the committee, Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Tom Udall of New Mexico, voted against the resolution, while five Republicans also rejected the authorization. This included 2016 hopefuls like Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky.
RAND PAUL, U.S. SENATOR (R-KY): I haven’t had one person come up to me and say they’re for this war. Not one person. We get calls by the thousands. Nobody’s calling in favor of this war. I didn’t meet–when I was home all month, I went to 40 cities. I haven’t had one person come up and say–. Do they all agree it’s a horrendous thing? Yes, we all agree that chemical attacks are a horrendous thing. But people are not excited about getting involved. They also don’t think it’s going to work. And they’re skeptical of what will occur with this.
DESVARIEUX: But in the end, Paul and the other six members were defeated.
On the other side of the Capitol, members of the Obama cabinet were making the case for bombing Syria at the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Although there’s no independent report by the UN confirming the use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Secretary of State John Kerry was adamant that Assad was to blame.
JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The Assad regime and only, undeniably, the Assad regime unleashed an outrageous chemical attack against its own citizens.
DESVARIEUX: We spoke with Democratic Congressman Juan Vargas of California and asked if he’s seen any evidence that makes him certain that Assad is guilty.
JUAN VARGAS, U.S. REPRESENTATIVE (D-CA): Everything that I’ve read gives me certainty that the information is credible if it wasn’t manufactured. Obviously, we’re not out there in the field getting in this information from these different sources, these multiple sources. The intelligence community is, and ultimately the White House is responsible for that. I want them to promise us that the information that we’ve seen is not manufactured, that it is correct. If it is, then I do think that the evidence is there.
DESVARIEUX: Based on the evidence being sound, Vargas says that he plans to vote in favor of directly intervening in Syria if Secretary of State Kerry makes a promise.
VARGAS: I just want him to promise that what we’ve seen is true and correct and not manufactured and somehow a lie.
DESVARIEUX: Whether Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons are factual was not debated on Wednesday. Rather, the decision to strike or not to strike Syria for humanitarian reasons was on full display.
The Real News caught up with former Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich to get an insider’s perspective. Having spent 16 years in Congress, Kucinich says that Congress members shouldn’t be the only ones briefed when it comes to an attack.
DENNIS KUCINICH, FMR. U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Give the facts to the American people. My guess is they won’t do that because the facts can’t stand. We’re getting intelligence, who knows from where. We’re getting dragged into a war based on lies. Didn’t we do this before already? Just because it’s a Democratic president doesn’t make it any more right. All of us remember Colin Powell at the United Nations. Frankly, his performance was better than Secretary Kerry’s. And no one’s thinking, what happens next after we start dropping bombs? What happens next is they just feel, well, nobody’s going to fight back. Are you kidding me? That’s so simpleminded as to cause heaven to grow hair.
DESVARIEUX: President Obama’s cabinet was on the Hill today trying to sell why the U.S. should strike against Syria. The public, however, doesn’t seem to be buying it. A new Pew Research Center poll found that only 29 percent of Americans actually favor direct military intervention. Protesters at the hearing were also making the case as to why the U.S. should just stay out.
MEDEA BENJAMIN, COFOUNDER, CODE PINK: I feel like this is a rerun of 2002, when we were protesting the pending war in Iraq. And here we are again. I don’t see the clarity of the evidence yet. I don’t see the UN report yet. I don’t understand what they expect to accomplish. I also see the hypocrisy of the United States having used chemical weapons in Vietnam, from napalm and Agent Orange, using chemical weapons in Iraq, from white phosphorus to depleted uranium. I’ve seen the babies who have been born with terrible deformations from the U.S. use of horrible weapons. I see the U.S. using drones and killing innocent people in Yemen and Pakistan, where I just returned. What is the moral authority that the U.S. has?
DESVARIEUX: Those are the views of antiwar activist group Code Pink’s cofounder Medea Benjamin. She was arrested on Tuesday for protesting at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
SEN. BOB MENENDEZ, CHAIR, U.S. SENATE COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: The committee will be in order.
BENJAMIN: [inaud.] to war. We don’t want another war.
MENENDEZ: And I ask the police to restore order.
DESVARIEUX: Fellow Code Pink members were in the U.S. committee hearing with signs that read “U.S. out of Syria”, and their hands were covered in paint representing blood that was on the U.S. government’s hands. Some like Code Pink are speaking out against military action, and Kucinich encourages more Americans to do the same if they disagree with bombing Syria.
KUCINICH: I have asked people–I’ve got a–on KucinichAction.com, I’ve asked people to sign a pledge that they’ll actually oppose anyone who’s in Congress who votes for this war. That’s how strongly I feel about it. I’ve got a lot of friends in Congress. But you know what? This goes beyond personal relationships. This goes to our relationship with our country and each other and our relationship with the future. I mean, we have to really understand the implications that a war could have, and none of them are good.
DESVARIEUX: But the debate on the Hill continues to be framed by both parties as two options: stay on the sideline and not pursue any direct military intervention–
KUCINICH: We should not be getting in the middle of this civil war. And we don’t have clean hands right now, because we’ve been aiding the opposition.
DESVARIEUX: –while others want to lead an attack.
VARGAS: So in some instances, I think you have to lead. Even though the opinion of the people may not be there at that time, you have to lead. And this is one of those instances where we lead. We don’t lead by opinion polls. We lead by what you think is right.
DESVARIEUX: But is there an alternative? Medea Benjamin certainly thinks so, saying that there are a host of diplomatic options that should be on the table.
BENJAMIN: I think we need to be getting all of the actors in the region and calling for a ceasefire. That’s what the people of Syria need. I’ve also been to the refugee camps in Syria and seen–outside Syria and seen the suffering. And I don’t see the U.S. pouring money in to help the millions of refugees. So there’s many other alternatives to helping the people of Syria. And the U.S. acting alone is outside of international law.
DESVARIEUX: With the recent approval of a Senate resolution, a strike by President Obama seems more and more likely. The House will be preparing its own resolution while taking into consideration the Senate’s version. The language of the Senate resolution may be problematic for some members who are on the fence. As it states, the end goal of the strike on Syria should be, quote, a negotiated settlement that ends the conflict and leads to a democratic government in Syria.
The resolution will go before the Senate for a vote after September 9, when all members are back from recess.
For The Real News Network, Jessica Desvarieux, Washington.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.