Minnesotans in Congress wary about possible Syria strike

  • Article by: KEVIN DIAZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 3, 2013 - 9:39 PM


War weariness could be felt on both ends of the Minnesota congressional delegation Tuesday, even as momentum was building in Congress for military action against Syria.

Among the most outspoken voices opposing a missile strike against Syrian President Bashar Assad for his government’s alleged use of chemical weapons are Reps. Michele Bachmann, a conservative Republican, and Rick Nolan, a freshman Democrat and a veteran of the antiwar movement during the Vietnam War.

The two illustrate the tough sell President Obama could face next week in the House, where antiwar liberals are joining with anti-Obama conservatives in creating a sense of ambivalence about a U.S. military strike in Syria.

Bachmann echoed skeptical lawmakers on the right and left who argue that Obama has not demonstrated neither a vital national security interest in the Syrian conflict nor a clear strategy on what the use of force is intended to accomplish.

“I am adamantly opposed to President Obama starting another war in the Middle East and plan to vote against military intervention in Syria,” Bachmann said. “We have bad actors and bad options on both sides in Syria, with many of the rebels working with Al-Qaida-affiliated groups.”

For some on the left, the prevailing mood is against miring the United States in another intractable overseas adventure after Iraq and Afghanistan.

Nolan, returning from Washington after a three-hour classified briefing on Syria, said that what he learned during the session “only served to convince me more than ever of the folly and danger of getting America involved in the Syrian civil war.”

Nolan, who reportedly got into a heated exchange with Secretary of State John Kerry during the briefing, also expressed doubts about the evidence against Assad. Some have suggested the rebels could be behind the attacks, though Kerry sharply disputed that contention “beyond a reasonable doubt.” But Nolan said even if the case can be made that Assad is guilty of using chemical weapons, “he should be charged and tried in an international court of law.”

Hearings were held Tuesday in the Senate, where Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel made the case for the White House.

“We’re not asking for America to go to war,” Kerry told a packed Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, which was interrupted by protesters. What the president seeks, Kerry said, is to degrade and deter Assad’s chemical weapons capacity and make clear “that the United States means what we say.”

But all bets are off among the rank and file in the GOP-led House, even as leaders in both parties say they will back Obama in taking action against Assad.

The GOP caucus is populated by a mix of foreign policy hawks and libertarians critical of Obama’s handling of the Syrian uprising. Minnesota Republican Erik Paulsen is neither, but he, too, is voicing skepticism, calling the president’s request for military action in Syria “too broad, too open-ended [and] too risky.”

A line drawn ‘by humanity’

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said that Obama’s “red line” on chemical weapons was drawn not by the White House, but by “humanity.”

Still, other Democrats remember the 2002 Iraq war resolution based on what turned out to be faulty intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapon capabilities.

Even some who might have favored U.S. intervention at some point in the conflict now say it is too late, that any damage to the Assad regime would only help Al-Qaida and other extremist elements in the rebel ranks.

One of Minnesota’s leading political centrists, rural Democrat Collin Peterson, added his voice Tuesday to those in Congress who oppose intervention.

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