Arizona Delegation Skeptical of Use of Military Force in Syria

Arizona Delegation Skeptical of Use of Military Force in Syria

THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC 09/04/13
By Erin Kelly and Rebekah Sanders

The Obama administration has no clear support yet among the U.S. House delegation from Arizona on the use of military force against Syria.

Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., said Wednesday that he will vote against a resolution to authorize military action in Syria. Republicans Reps. Paul Gosar and David Schweikert and Democrat Raul Grijalva are likely to do the same when the resolution comes to a vote on the House floor next week.

Salmon and Gosar said e-mails, phone calls and other communication from constituents has been overwhelmingly opposed to U.S. military action. “It hasn’t even been close,” Salmon said.

Democrats Ann Kirkpatrick, Ron Barber, Ed Pastor and Kyrsten Sinema were undecided as of Wednesday.

Sinema, in a tweet Wednesday, asked constituents to “tell me what you think” before next week’s vote.

Republican Rep. Trent Franks has not said where he stands. He could not be reached for comment.

The reluctance and outright opposition among the House members is in stark contrast to Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, who voted Wedneday to approve a resolution by the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee to authorize military action against Syria. The resolution passed the committee by a vote of 10-7 and is expected to go to the full Senate next week.

Salmon said a hearing by the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday turned his skepticism about military action to opposition after he questioned Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman and Gen. Martin Dempsey. Salmon is chairman of the panel’s Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere.

“I know what my vote is going to be — and it’s no,” Salmon said in an interview after the hearing. “They haven’t made a compelling case at all why this is in our national interest.”

Salmon said he also was not convinced, despite repeated assurances from Kerry, that the limited strikes proposed by President Barack Obama won’t escalate into a bigger conflict that would require American ground troops to get involved. There also is not enough military support guaranteed from U.S. allies, Salmon said.

“The lack of world support is astounding,” he said.

Gosar said he is not convinced the Syrian government launched the chemical weapons attack that administration officials say killed more than 1,400 civilians on Aug. 21. He pointed to reports by Associated Press reporter Dale Gavlak that the weapons attack may have come from opponents of the Assad regime.

“We don’t have all the facts,” he said in an interveiw Wednesday. “Unless something really changes my direction and information, I’m a no (vote). Getting involved in a sectarian war is a lose-lose situation.”

Kerry said Wednesday that the evidence is overwhelming that Assad launched the attacks on his own people. If the U.S. military does not respond, Kerry said, the regime will do it again.

A spokeswoman for Republican Rep. David Schweikert said he remains skeptical about the plan. Spokeswoman Rachel Semmel said Schweikert “isn’t convinced there is a US interest yet. If we become engaged with little direction from the president, what is our exit strategy?”

Grijalva, a progressive Democrat who seldom agrees with the conservative Republicans in the delegation, also has expressed skepticism.

He was in Reno, Nev., on Wednesday at a meeting on the federal government’s handling of wild mustangs and burros. But his spokeswoman, Clara Ortiz, pointed to an opinion piece by Grijalva and Michael Shank, director of Foreign Policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, opposing military action in Syria. The piece, posted on CNN’s website, says that the Obama administration should first pursue diplomatic solutions by working with U.S. allies in the region. If that doesn’t work, the United States should go to the United Nations’ Security Council and the International Criminal Court to seek an indictment of Assad for crimes against humanity.

“It is time for something preventive before we press play on the punitive,” Grijalva and Shank wrote.

Other members of the delegation remained undecided Wednesday on whether the United States should take military action against Syria.

Kirkpatrick said she wants more information before making up her mind.

“I’m very disturbed by the reports coming out of Syria about chemical weapons being used to kill civilians,” she said. “But being on the Veterans Affairs Committee, I have seen what war has done to our soldiers coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Military action does not come without consequences.”

Kirkpatrick said she wants to see the wording of any House resolution before deciding how to vote. She said the resolution should make it clear that any military action would be limited in scope, duration, and mission.

“We need clarity and transparency so the American people know exactly what we’re doing.”

Pastor said he’d make his decision by next week. “I’ve received some calls and briefings but I haven’t made up my mind yet,” he said.

Barber’s spokesman, Mark Kimble, said Barber is also waiting to make up his mind until next week’s debate on the House floor.