News Column

Cruz, O'Rourke Lean Toward 'No' on Syria Action

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Many Texas and New Mexico lawmakers in the area -- including U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz -- are leaning toward voting against any bill that calls for using military force in Syria.

After a town hall meeting Tuesday with about 200 El Pasoans who were mostly against military action against Syria, O'Rourke, D-El Paso, said Thursday he was leaning toward voting against military action as President Barack Obama would like because of alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government.

Congress officially reconvenes on Monday.

Cruz, R-Texas, said Thursday during a news conference at Fort Bliss that he was skeptical about the need for the U.S. government to intervene militarily in the Syrian conflict. He said there is no direct threat to U.S. national security from the current conflict, but that U.S. intervention could create security problems in the future.

"Out of the nine major (rebel) groups, seven appear to have some tie to Al-Qaeda," Cruz said, "and it would undermine the U.S. national security if they got access to, in particular, chemical weapons. I am not in favor of risking the lives of our young soldiers by getting us into the middle of a sectarian war ... there is a risk for escalation."

Cruz toured Fort Bliss and meet with small-business owners. He did not rule out voting yes after he has the opportunity to hear more from the Obama administration. "I will continue to listen to the administration's arguments for intervention before I vote," Cruz said.

Like Cruz, O'Rourke left the door open to changing his vote.

"There are so many unanswered questions, so few clear paths to a positive resolution once we attack Syria, that it is hard to see how I can support the President's request that we go to war," O'Rourke said in a statement. "However, this is the most important decision I will be asked to make as a member of Congress. I will make it in as deliberate and thoughtful way as I can. Despite my deep reservations, I will keep an open mind and gather as much information and wisdom as I can before I make my decision and cast my vote."

U.S. officials claim that the Syrian government, under President Bashar al-Assad, used chemical weapons against its own people. The alleged Aug. 21 attacks killed more than 1,400 people, including 400 children, in a rebel-held suburb of Damascus. The Syrian government has denied any role in the attacks and blames the rebels.

Some of the unanswered questions that remain for O'Rourke are what will be the exact extent of the U.S. involvement, the monetary and human lives it will cost, and how any U.S. involvement will affect the people of Syria and the surrounding nations.

"I cannot see how U.S. military intervention will make things in that country better," O'Rourke said in a statement. "I have not been persuaded that the violation of an international norm should be met with a unilateral American military response. It has not been clearly explained what the extent of our involvement will be; what it will cost this country, in money and lives; what our clear objectives are; how we will know that we've succeeded in achieving them. I don't understand what reactions U.S. military action will cause within Syria; how the regional stakeholders will react (Iran, Israel, Russia, etc.); and whether these reactions will require further U.S. action."

O'Rourke said he will vote no if any of these questions remain unanswered.

"If I cannot answer the questions posed above to my satisfaction, if I am not convinced that we will clearly do more good than harm, I will vote against this war and work to ensure that this country pursues an international response to the atrocities that have been committed in Syria," O'Rourke said.

While O'Rourke leans toward voting no, U.S. Senator Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, voted Wednesday against military action in Syria in the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. The full U.S. Senate will vote by next week, Udall said in a statement.

"We should not take it lightly that the American people are not with us. New Mexicans are tired of war," Udall said. "They know what the administration is proposing won't provide us assurance that Assad will not attack again -- that it won't ensure that his regime will not retaliate in some way."

Any chance that the military action could lead to the U.S. being dragged into a war is too great to take without first trying every diplomatic option available, Udall said.

"The truth is that we cannot guarantee that even a 'surgical' strike will prevent the United States from being embroiled in war," Udall said. "We should not enter into a conflict until we've exhausted every diplomatic and international option. We have not done that. The risks of the actions we are contemplating now are too great."

U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, said he will take into consideration all the information he can before saying how he will vote.

"I take a decision on the use of military force very seriously. We must always understand the impact of our decisions on our Armed Forces and the family members who support them," Gallego said in an email. "Over the coming days, I'm going to continue to receive briefings and take in information on the types of military action being considered. Ultimately, I'll make a decision based on the final language of any authorization to use military force and its relationship to any threat to American security or the security of America's interests. I know how critical it is to get this right and want to hear from everyone about their opinions on Syria."

In a statement, U.S. Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, did not say how he would vote, but urged the president to address the nation.

"I appreciate President Obama holding a meeting (Sept. 3) at the White House. Unfortunately, many questions are still left unanswered. I would urge the President to make the case not only to Congress, but to the American people, in a national address," Cornyn said in a statement Tuesday. "The President needs to explain in detail what vital national interests are at stake, his plan for securing these interests and a clear definition of what success looks like in Syria."

New Mexico Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich said in a statement that he was against a draft resolution seeking military action by the U.S.

"I believe the draft resolution that the administration submitted to Congress over the weekend was overly broad and open-ended," he said. "Therefore, I welcome the new draft resolution written by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee leadership to ensure any military action is both limited in scope and duration, and prevents the use of any U.S. ground forces inside Syria."

New Mexico Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican, has said that he is against Obama acting unilaterally without Congressional approval.

"The President set a dangerous and unconstitutional precedent when he committed to military action in Libya without Congressional approval," Pearce said in a statement. "America cannot fight every battle -- intervention in Syria would be a wrong and costly course."

Aaron Martinez may be reached at 546-6249.

Diana Washington Valdez contributed to this story.

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