U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and Rep. Chuck Fleischmann this week said they oppose the use of military force or a limited strike in Syria in retaliation for the government’s suspected use of chemical weapons in the country’s civil war.
Meanwhile, Sen. Bob Corker said he was skeptical about an offer to have Syria turn over its chemical weapons in order to avoid an attack.
President Barack Obama has asked Congress to authorize a limited military strike.
“I will vote ‘no’ because of too much uncertainty about what comes next,” said Alexander, a Tennessee Republican. “After step A, what will be steps B, C, D and E? I see too much risk that the strike will do more harm than good by setting off a chain of consequences that could involve American fighting men and women in another long-term Middle East conflict. There should be other ways, more appropriate to America’s vital national security interests, to discourage and show our disgust with the Syrian government’s apparent use of chemical weapons on its own people.”
Alexander made his remarks at the Nashville Rotary Club on Monday, a press release said. He participated in a telephone briefing with Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper after Obama’s remarks on Syria on Aug. 31. This past weekend, the senator discussed the proposed strike by telephone with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the release said.
Meanwhile, Fleischmann’s office said the congressman attended a classified briefing on the conflict in Syria on Monday evening. The briefing was presented by the White House and meant to further inform members of the situation and potential next steps for the nation, a press release said.
“Considering the use of military force is always a very somber decision and deserves our nation’s utmost diligence,” said Fleischmann, a Tennessee Republican whose district includes Oak Ridge. “Throughout this process I have sought the opinion of my constituents across East Tennessee and committed to listen to the president’s plan. After hearing the information presented by the administration, I cannot support the authorization for the use of military force in Syria should it come before the House for a vote.
“I am deeply concerned about the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war and have given great thought to the impact this decision could have on the Syrian people, our allies, and the instability in the region as a whole. My concerns about the use of military force in Syria have centered on two essential questions: What is our goal, and what are the implications following military action? Neither of these questions has been adequately answered by the administration. In fact, if anything my concerns have grown.”
Corker, who is also a Tennessee Republican and ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, responded to reports of the possibility for negotiations that could lead to Syria turning over its chemical weapons.
“While at this point I have healthy skepticism that this offer will change the situation and it will be several days before we can fully determine its credibility, I do know that it never would have been floated if the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had not approved the authorization for the use of force last week,” Corker said.
Corker has previously said he would support a decision by the president to engage in surgical strikes against the Syrian government given the evidence of the Assad regime’s continued use of chemical weapons, but he cautioned against any further involvement beyond supporting “vetted, moderate members of the Syrian opposition.” He had earlier urged the Obama administration to first seek congressional authorization.
The Syrian civil war started more than two years ago and more than 100,000 people have died, but the divided international community has been unable to take significant action to stop the bloodshed.
Obama’s decision to announce late in August that he will seek congressional authorization for a military strike after the reported chemical attack followed several days of faltering support for military action in Congress as well as in foreign capitals, including in Britain, a close American ally.
There are reports alleging that the Syrian government killed nearly 1,500 civilians in an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus.