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The Battle for Syria

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Veterans in Congress Line Up Against Obama's Syria Intervention

September 7th 2013

The majority of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans serving in Congress are lining up against President Obama's plan for military action in Syria. Of the 16 veterans of those two conflicts serving in Congress, only GOP Reps. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) and Tom Cotton (Ark.) have publicly supported the White House's plan.

Three other members — Iraq War veterans and Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) and Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) are undecided. A fourth, Scott Perry (R-Pa.), said he hasn’t made up his mind either, though he told a town hall this week he wasn’t inclined to support a resolution authorizing force.

Ten of the remaining members have announced their opposition to a military strike.

Their ranks include Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who lost both legs during combat operations in Iraq in 2004. She is adamantly opposed to a U.S. strike on Syria. When Washington decides to use military force “it's military families like mine that are the first to bleed,” she said in a statement this week. “Until I feel it's imperative to our national security, I will not support pre-emptive intervention in Syria,” she continued. “America shouldn't bear the burden unilaterally, especially since none of our allies, including those in the region, have committed to action.”

Duckworth’s opposition is particularly notable because her views on national security and defense hold sway within her party given her sacrifices. She is the only Democratic veteran from the Iraq or Afghanistan wars serving in Congress who opposes a strike.

But the views of all of the veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are carrying weight in a debate colored by those conflicts — particularly Iraq. The British Parliament last week voted down the idea of a military strike in Syria in large part because of lingering resentment over the Iraq War. People on both sides of the debate there reached that conclusion.

In the U.S., members in both parties have said they want to avoid getting the U.S. involved in another conflict in the Middle East. Eight Republicans who served in the Iraq War also oppose a military strike in Syria. They are Reps. Jerry Bentivolio (Mich.), James Bridenstine (Okla.), Doug Collins (Ga.), Ron DeSantis (Fla.), Mike Coffman (Colo.), Chris Gibson (N.Y.), Tim Griffin (Ark.) and Joe Heck (Nev.) Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), who like Kinzinger and Cotton served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, also opposes a military strike.

One veteran of the first Gulf War with Iraq — Marine Corps veteran and Rep. Mike Grimm (R-N.Y.) — also opposes a strike against Syria. He initially supported action, but then shifted, saying he had decided the administration's plan would do little to secure U.S. national security interests in Syria or the region. The undecided veteran-lawmakers recite the same themes as non-military lawmakers in describing why they are still making up their minds on Obama’s request.

The biggest question, they say, is whether U.S. military strikes in Syria will draw the country into another drawn-out conflict similar to the Iraq or Afghanistan wars. “I want to understand the end state [in Syria], the strategy to achieve it and the exit strategy – all of which must be tied around America’s national interest,” Stivers said in a statement to The Hill on Friday.

Gabbard told reporters Thursday that questions about “what comes next” have made her decision a difficult one, though she cast proposed action in Syria as “a different situation” than Iraq or Afghanistan

President Obama argues the strikes are necessary to send the message the use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated. He had warned earlier that chemical weapons use represented a “red line.”

Kinzinger said Iraq and Afghanistan should not be an excuse for Congress to “paralyze ourselves into inaction” on Syria. 
“I believe that is a cheap line by some people to garner headlines and not a serious discussion about what is going on in Syria,” Kinzinger said during a House Foreign Affairs panel hearing. He also slammed GOP Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) for claiming a strike would turn the U.S. into al Qaeda’s air force. Critics of intervention have noted that some of the rebel groups fighting the Syrian regime are tied to the terrorist organization.

Carlos Munoz writes for The Hill, from where this article is adapted.

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