News Column

Idaho Lawmakers Question Syrian Strike

Aug 30, 2013

Idaho's federal lawmakers expressed doubts Thursday about a U.S. military strike on Syria as a standoff between Congress and President Barack Obama continued to fester.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad crossed Obama's "red line" last week after apparently using chemical weapons against armed rebels looking to overthrow the autocrat.

The White House and British Prime Minister David Cameron responded this week by openly building a case for punitive attacks on select military targets, an act intended to punish the Assad regime for the apparent war crime.

But in Washington, the Republican-heldHouse pushed back Wednesday when dozens of rank-and-file lawmakers demanded congressional involvement in any decision to strike, initiating a constitutional standoff over the president's ability to act unilaterally.

"The president should not be under any illusion that Congress will be silent should he move forward without our consent," said U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Nampa.

Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Blackfoot, who's locked in a political standoff with Labrador, also signed the letter opposing any use of force by the White House without congressional consent.

Secretary of State John Kerry and several high-ranking military officials briefed selected congressional leaders Thursday. Obama, meanwhile, worked the phones trying to garner support from European powers, the Associated Press reported.

It's unlikely the White House briefing will satisfy House majority demands, as GOP lawmakers question Obama's ability to single-handedly initiate the strike without congressional approval.

A staffer for Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, said Thursday that Idaho's senior senator isn't convinced that military action is wise, especially amid Iranian backing of Assad and the appearance of Russian warships in the region.

"It's a pretty serious deal -- the use of chemical weapons -- and there should be some punishment for the leadership," said Crapo spokesman Lindsay Nothern. "But the spinoff effects -- what would it mean for Israel?"

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have worried openly that Syria is the powder keg that could destabilize the entire Middle East.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has remained silent on the issue, as has Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

But McConnell's GOP backbenchers aren't remaining so quiet.

Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, said Thursday that the White House should put the brakes on before hurdling into Syrian intervention.

"There is a need to fully assess who is responsible and what the full effect of any kind of United States involvement would be before a debate even starts," Risch said.

Many opponents of military strikes argue that the White House hasn't proven that Assad's regime is directly responsible for the chemical weapons attacks.

Obama's closest ally, the Conservative Party's Cameron, faced similar doubts from his opponents in U.K. Parliament, the left-leaning Labour Party.

Labour leader Ed Milliband said Thursday that Cameron needs to do more to convince Parliament that military action is a wise move, especially with the Iraqi quagmire still fresh in the public's memory, the BBC reported.

Source: (c)2013 The Times-News (Twin Falls, Idaho). Distributed by MCT Information Services.