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Thornberry says he does not support the President’s request to authorize the use of military force in Syria

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Washington, September 11, 2013 | Jon Corley (202-225-3706) | comments
Congressman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and senior member of the House Intelligence Committee, made the following statement on the President's request for Congress to authorize the use of military force in Syria:

"I listened carefully to the President’s speech to the nation and in recent days have participated in a number of hearings, classified briefings, and other meetings to study the Administration’s proposal to conduct military strikes in Syria.  It is especially important in matters of national security for the nation to stand together whenever possible.

Yet, I cannot support the President’s request for Congress to authorize the use of military force in Syria.  I am extremely doubtful that the Russian offer to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control is genuine or even possible.   But regardless of the outcome of that offer, I am concerned that the Administration does not have a clear, obtainable military plan to advance effectively the national security interests of the United States.

The decision to authorize the use of military force is one of the most serious and consequential of any decision put before the Congress.  Any such request by the President must be given full consideration.  National security is – and must remain -- above and beyond partisan politics.

I have no doubt in the ability of our military to carry out the tasks given to it.  But the Administration’s plan here is to use enough force to deter Assad from further use of chemical weapons but not so much force as to tip the scales in the Syrian civil war.  It wants to use enough force to make it more difficult for Assad to use chemical weapons in the future but not so much force as to loosen the regime’s controls over those weapons, which would make it easier for terrorists to get their hands on them.  I doubt that any use of military force, even by the best military in the world, can be calibrated so precisely.

The Administration’s objectives here are not military objectives; they are political ones.  The President is attempting to send a message to Assad and to the rest of the world, but he continues to give Assad a long list of what the United States is not going to do.  Not only am I concerned that the President’s plan will not achieve the results it hopes for, but also that the ineffectual use of force may well be worse for American credibility in the world than no use of force at all.

I acknowledge that there is a cost to inaction in this situation.  There is also a cost to military action, and some of that cost – probably most of it – is, as always, unforeseeable.  The risk of escalation, either through retaliatory actions or the need to conduct subsequent strikes to achieve deterrence, is considerable, and given the international dimensions of the conflict, any escalation may be long, expensive, and dangerous.

The President has not persuaded the nation that his policy is the right one and has asked that the vote in Congress be postponed temporarily.  Each Member of Congress has sworn an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”  The oath applies even if defending the country requires unpopular decisions.  But it is dangerous and shortsighted to initiate a military conflict with so much risk and such little support among the American people.

On this anniversary of the attacks on 9/11, I am very aware that in the modern world we cannot wait until attacked before we defend ourselves.  This date is also a reminder, however, that those who killed 3,000 Americans 12 years ago and others like them are still plotting and planning to commit further atrocities against us.  We must maintain a strong defense, and we must be prudent in deciding when and how to use it.  I am troubled that the President would launch a new military operation while the defense budget is still being cut.  And I am also troubled by this Administration’s history of rushing to the exits in Iraq and now Afghanistan.

Obviously, Syria continues to be a fluid situation and one on which we must continue to consult with our allies and other interested nations.  The U.S. should continue to utilize appropriate tools of influence to prevent the spread of the chaos.  At some point in the future, U.S. military operations may be required, but I do not believe the President’s proposal should be approved at this time."
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