Van Hollen Statement on Syria
Today Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen issued the following statement on the situation in Syria:
“Every Member of Congress has a special obligation to review the facts surrounding the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria. This is particularly true after our experience in Iraq, where our country went to war on false claims that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons. I have carefully reviewed the intelligence reports and the public information regarding the mass casualties on August 21, 2013 in Ghouta, Syria. I believe there is clear and convincing evidence that the Assad forces used poison gas that indiscriminately killed hundreds of innocent people, including scores of children.
“The international ban on the use of poison gas is based largely on the awful lessons from the horrors of World War I. I have long argued that the United States and the international community must enforce this well established international red line. As a staff member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the late -1980s, I argued that it was wrong of the international community to ignore Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons against the Iranians and the Kurdish people at that time. Earlier in this conflict President Obama made clear that the use of chemical weapons would cross a red line and demand a response. But it is important to note that the use of poison gas is not simply a personal redline established by President Obama. The President was underscoring a line clearly drawn by international conventions dating back to 1925. It is shameful that Russia would now use its veto in the United Nations Security Council to block collective action to respond to this war crime and to deter the future use of poison gas.
“While collective action would be preferable, I believe that the United States cannot contract out its national security decisions to others. It is in our national security interests, and in accordance with universal humanitarian interests, to deter the future use of chemical weapons in Syria, and in any future conflicts. The continued use of poison gas by Assad's forces will not only result in the mass killings of more innocent Syrian civilians, but will also put at risk our allies in the region, including Israel, Turkey, and Jordan and increase the likelihood that chemical weapons could be used against American troops or civilians in future attacks or conflicts.
“There are some who argue that it is pointless to enforce the prohibition against poison gas because Assad's forces are still killing people by other means. I disagree. The international ban on chemical weapons was established because this form of weaponry kills men, women and children indiscriminately on a massive scale. Even in the bloody Syrian civil war, this chemical weapons attack resulted in the largest single death toll from a single attack. I reject the view that because we cannot stop all evil acts everywhere all of the time, we should not prevent some evil acts somewhere, some of the time. Moreover, the rationale for enforcing the chemical weapons ban goes beyond seeking to deter its use in Syria. It is necessary to do what we can to preserve this long established ban in future conflicts.
“For these reasons, while I will not support a blank check to go to war in Syria, I will support a narrowly drawn resolution to authorize military force so long as it is limited in scope and purpose. This action must not put American troops in the line of fire. Its purpose must be limited to deterring the future use of chemical weapons. Once a punitive strike has been made, no additional strikes should be conducted unless the Assad forces repeat the use of chemical weapons. Preventing the use of poison gas is a limited, clear and measurable objective.
“The draft resolution submitted by the Obama Administration is too loosely drawn. As currently constructed it provides the President with too much of a blank check. While it appropriately limits the purpose of military action to the prevention of the use and spread of chemical weapons, it puts no limit on the scope or duration of military actions to accomplish that objective. It would empower the President to put American soldiers on the ground in Syria, and it would also allow the President to conduct military action beyond an initial strike even if the Assad regime refrains from further use of chemical weapons.
“There are some who may see this as an opportunity to craft a resolution that will open the door to large scale American military involvement to change the balance of power in the Syrian Civil War. I would strongly oppose any such open-ended authorization for two reasons. First, while I support certain measures to strengthen the position of those rebels who are committed to a post-Assad Syria that is democratic and protects the rights of religious and ethnic minorities, we know that some of the most militarily powerful rebel groups are Sunni extremists allied with Al Qaeda. We do not want to inadvertently strengthen their hand through our actions. Second, we should establish goals for military action that are reasonably achievable at an acceptable cost. Because the military conflict in Syria has been further fueled by the agendas of regional players supporting their preferred proxies on the ground, it is highly likely that any advantage gained by one side on the ground will simply spur increased support for the other. It would be a grave mistake to put the credibility of the use of American military power behind a goal that would drag us inexorably into that quagmire. The only plausible resolution of this toxic brew is a negotiated settlement. I believe that goal must continue to be the primary focus of the Obama Administration's efforts.”