BOISE -- Although President Barack Obama is away at the G-20 summit in Russia, the effort to get members of Congress to support U.S. military action against Syria continues back home. And officials say Obama himself is still involved, making calls to lawmakers from the summit. But, our Idaho delegation is still not convinced a military strike is a good idea.
Idaho Republican Sen. Jim Risch serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Wednesday in a closed-door meeting, voted against the use of military force in Syria. Thursday, back in his home state, Risch said he wanted to let everyone know why he voted that way and why he will vote against military action again in the full Senate.
Risch says Bashar Assad's use of chemical weapons against his own people last month is the most serious but just the latest in about a dozen other attacks. That has prompted millions to flee Syria. But, while Risch supports humanitarian aid continuing to those refugees, he can't support military action. "The answer is that there are no good answers here. My judgment is that the risk of doing something is worse than the risk of doing nothing."
Risch says the Syrian rebels currently fighting Assad are actually splintered groups, some of whom are terrorists. And he says it would be great if Assad was removed from power but not if those who replace him are terrorists. "The weapons of mass destruction that are present in Syria, would fall into the hands of Al-Qaeda, Al-Nusra, the Muslim Brotherhood, and others."
So he says any military action would merely be to punish Assad and that would destabilize the region even further, and result in the U.S. losing credibility. "Indeed, after the attack, Assad is going to come out from under his rock. He's going to beat his chest and he's going to say, 'I stood up to the American war machine, the biggest, the most powerful in the world, and I'm still here.' In my judgment, I think that hurts our credibility."
Risch says Idaho and America are "war-weary." But, if Assad acts against the U.S., a U.S. ally, or an American citizen, that would change Risch's mind. "The American people will stand shoulder-to-shoulder opposing vehemently, and with everything we've got, if there is any attack on American people, American interests, or allies."
Risch says he believes the Senate will authorize the use of force against Syria, but is not sure about the House, although the speaker has said he's in favor of military action.
Risch says military action against Syria could be even more difficult than the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan, given Syria's powerful friends. He says the Assad regime wouldn't even be standing without Russia and Iran.