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Congressional Delegation Still Undecided On Military Action In Syria

All 3 members of Vermont’s Congressional delegation remain undecided about President Barack Obama’s plan to order limited air strikes against Syria.

President Obama argued that air strikes are needed as a response to the use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and he said his administration has no plans to put “boots on the ground” in Syria.

Congressman Peter Welch said the situation poses an ethical dilemma for many members of Congress.

The real dilemma for I think all of us who are wrestling with this question is what is the unintended consequence from any action that the U.S. may take ? Will it make the situation worse rather than better. Rep. Peter Welch

“The question here is not whether we should get involved in a civil war it’s whether there’s some action that should be taken to punish Assad for the use of these weapons in violation of international norms and international law,” said Welch. “The real dilemma for I think all of us who are wrestling with this question is what is the unintended consequence from any action that the U.S. may take? Will it make the situation worse rather than better.”

Welch said next week’s vote will be “a vote of conscience” for him because there are significant consequences to voting yes or voting no.

“If we do nothing does Assad make a bad situation even worse and just be indiscriminate in the use of chemical weapons,” said Welch. “If we act militarily does it pull us into a civil war even though that’s not our intention?  These are judgments that all of us are going to have to make.”

Senator Bernie Sanders said the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government is “atrocious” but he’s concerned that even limited military action will lead to a larger U.S. involvement in Syria.

“But there has got to be another way of addressing that problem rather than getting involved in an incredibly bloody and complicated civil war in Syria,” said Sanders. “Where by the way it is not so easy in some cases to differentiate the good guys from the bad guys.”

While the President talks of taking limited military action, Sanders said it’s clear that some members of the Senate want to go much further to ensure that Assad is removed from office.

“I do worry very much that our focus on a third war in 12 years means that we are not going to be paying the attention that we have to pay to the many serious problems facing working families in this country, global warming and many other important issues,” said Sanders.

Senator Patrick Leahy is out of the country and not available for comment. His office released a statement saying that Leahy opposed the President’s original resolution because he thought it was too broad in scope and didn’t include a sunset. 

These are concerns that might be addressed in an alternative proposal being developed by Senate leaders.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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