News Column

GOP House: No Syria Action Without Approval

August 30, 2013
US Congress

As President Barack Obama signals that military action in Syria may be imminent, Republican members of the North Carolina delegation in Congress have expressed different priorities on military action and whether the president should first seek congressional authority to carry out a military strike.

These positions are starting to take shape the same week that Obama directly said that Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime was responsible for a chemical attack on civilians that, according humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders, killed 355 people.

"We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out," Obama said in an interview Wednesday with "NewsHour" on PBS. "And if that's so, then there need to be international consequences."

Those consequences should come in the form of a military strike, according to Sen. Richard Burr of Winston-Salem, who referred to the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons against civilians as "morally repugnant."

"Short of putting troops on the ground, it is time for the United States and our NATO allies to take necessary, punitive military action against the Syrian regime and send a clear signal to its leadership, and others in the region who may be contemplating using weapons of this nature, that there are consequences for these actions," Burr, a Republican, said in a news release.

Unlike Burr, U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-5th, and other House members representing North Carolina conditioned their support of a military strike, if at all, on the idea that the president must first seek congressional authority.

Anything less would be unconstitutional, they said.

Foxx, for example, said that the Assad regime "grossly" violated its citizens' human rights and poses a "threat to peace and security worldwide," which must not be tolerated.

"Engaging the American military in Syria when no direct threat is posed to the United States, however, must only be done with congressional authorization," Foxx said. "Before any of our men and women are committed to another military campaign, the Constitution requires a vote of Congress. If the Commander-in-chief determines intervention is required, we are ready to return to the Capitol and engage in the deliberations necessary to ensure an appropriate response to these atrocities."

U.S. Reps. Walter Jones, R-3rd, Robert Pittenger, R-9th, and Mark Meadows, R-11th, hold similar views.

They added their names to a letter dated Aug. 28 by U.S. Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia to Obama, expressing disagreement with a precedent that the administration tried to set by using military force in Libya without congressional authority.

In the letter, Rigell refers to the president's claim that congressional authorities was "not required because our military was not engaged in 'hostilities." Rigell counters: "If the use of 221 Tomahawk cruise missiles, 704 Joint Direct Attack Munitions, and 42 Predator Hellfire missiles expended in Libya does not constitute 'hostilities,' what does?"

The intelligence linking Assad or his inner circle to an alleged chemical weapons attack is no "slam dunk," The Associated Press reported Thursday.

Questions remain about who actually controls some of Syria's chemical weapons stores and doubts about whether Assad himself ordered the strike, U.S. intelligence officials say. However, several U.S. officials used the phrase "not a slam dunk" to describe the intelligence picture -- a reference to then-CIA Director George Tenet's insistence in 2002 that U.S. intelligence showing Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was a "slam dunk" -- intelligence that turned out to be wrong, according to the AP.

A report by the Office of the Director for National Intelligence outlining that evidence against Syria includes a few key caveats -- including acknowledging that the U.S. intelligence community no longer has the certainty it did six months ago of where the regime's chemical weapons are stored, nor does it have proof Assad ordered chemical weapons use, according to two intelligence officials and two more U.S. officials, The AP reported.

U.S. Rep. Mel Watt, D-12th, whose congressional district runs through Winston-Salem, declined to comment because he is up for nomination to be director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. However, his record seems to put him in line with Foxx. Watt has been a "strong supporter," he said, of having military action be predicated on congressional authority.

Hannah Smith, a deputy press secretary for Sen. Kay Hagan, said that the Department of Defense has drawn up a number of potential responses to this chemical attack, which the president is evaluating. Hagan looks forward to hearing what he views as the best option, Smith said.

"However, given the abhorrent nature of the regime's actions, Senator Hagan believes that a potential military strike should be strongly considered," Smith said.

Asked whether Hagan, a Democrat, supports the idea that the president should first seek congressional authority before using military force, Smith responded, "As with any major military engagement, the senator would hope to be apprised of the action being carried out through her position on the Armed Services Committee."

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Source: Copyright Winston-Salem Journal (NC) 2013. Distributed by MCT Information Services

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