County News Editor
Vermont's three-member Congressional delegation supports President Barack Obama's decision on Saturday to ask Congress to approve an attack on Syria, in response to allegations that the Syrian government launched a deadly chemical attack on its own people.
The state's two senators and one congressman remain guarded about the wisdom of an attack, however.
Obama administration officials have said that an Aug. 21 Syrian government strike in heavily populated suburbs of Damascus killed 1,429 civilians, including more than 400 children. The U.S. says the use of such chemical weapons compels an international response. On Sunday news programs, Secretary of State John Kerry said study of blood and hair samples from first responders indicates the use of sarin. He said President Barack Obama has the authority to launch retaliatory strikes with or without Congress' approval, but Kerry stopped short of saying the president would do so if the House or Senate withholds support.
Speaking in the White House Rose Garden on Saturday, Obama said: "This attack is an assault on human dignity. It also presents a serious danger to our national security. It risks making a mockery of the global prohibition on the use of chemical weapons. It endangers our friends and our partners along Syria's borders, including Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq. It could lead to escalating use of chemical weapons, or their proliferation to terrorist groups who would do our people harm."
In a switch, however - which many tie to the refusal of the British Parliament to support that nation attacking Syria - Obama said he would first refer the matter to Congress, though he has already made the decision as commander in chief to retaliate.
"But having made my decision as commander-in-chief based on what I am convinced is our national security interests, I'm also mindful that I'm the President of the world's oldest constitutional democracy," Obama said. "I've long believed that our power is rooted not just in our military might, but in our example as a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. And that's why I've made a second decision: I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people's representatives in Congress."
Vt. delegation reacts
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he has participated in all of the leadership conference calls that have been held with the president and the secretaries of state and defense about the situation in Syria. "The President is right to seek authorization from Congress for a response to the Syrian regime's clear violation of international law, in the use of weapons of mass destruction against innocent civilians. I continue to oppose introducing U.S. troops into this conflict, and I continue to believe that seeking congressional approval of military action is called for," Leahy said in a statement Saturday. "Given the positions taken by past presidents, the president's decision to seek congressional approval is especially commendable. I look forward to this debate, and we should have it openly in the Congress."
Vt.'s junior Senator, Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons is inhumane and violates international law. "However, at this point in time, I need to hear more from the president as to why he believes it is in the best interests of the United States to intervene in Syria's bloody and complicated civil war," Sanders said in a statement, which notes that Navy ships were positioned in Mediterranean Sea and ready to launch cruise missiles when Obama decided to seek approval from Congress before taking military action. Congress returns on Sept. 9.
"I look forward to the Senate debate that will be taking place in the very near future," Sanders said.
On Saturday, Rep. Peter Welch, a Democrat, approved the matter being directed to Congress, but gave no hint of how he would vote. "Congress has a clear Constitutional responsibility to authorize military action. Consistent with this profound responsibility, I have strongly advocated that President Obama send any plan for military intervention in Syria to Congress for review and authorization," Welch said. "I am pleased that he has now agreed to do so. I will be an active participant in the forthcoming debate and will be mindful throughout of the enormous sacrifice we ask every day of the men and women of America's military and their families."
New York and Mass.
In New York, Rep. Chris Gibson, R-19th District, said in a Saturday statement on Facebook that the president "was right to first seek authorization from the people's representatives before using military force in Syria. I thank him for that."
However, Gibson, a decorated military veteran, opposes intervention. "I hope my colleagues will fully think through the weightiness of this decision and reject military action. The situation on the ground in Syria is tragic and deeply saddening, but escalating the conflict and Americanizing the Syrian Civil War will not resolve the matter. As a 29-year veteran of the United States military with multiple combat tours, it is my judgment that military intervention would make it worse and make us responsible for that conflict."
He added, "We should pursue the diplomatic track, working with the warring factions and other stakeholders in the region, combining economic sanctions to leverage our position and to bring about a peaceful resolution to the Syrian Civil War."
Though New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand said on Thursday they would be inclined to support a limited attack to punish Syria or knock out its chemical weapons capability, the two have issued no statements on their web or social media sites since President Obama's decision Saturday to refer the matter to Congress. In Massachusetts, both senators warned of possible unintended consequences of an attack on Syria. "President Obama is making the right decision to call for Congressional debate on this difficult question. I have said all along that I think we need a full debate, we need international backing, and we need detailed, complete evidence presented before deciding whether our country should take action in Syria," said Sen. Edward Markey, a Democrat. " We must be mindful...of the complexities of the situation in Syria. The aftermath of a U.S. strike on targets in Syria is difficult to predict, with negative consequences that may be beyond our capability to control. That's why I am looking forward to a thorough, detailed debate that hears all sides."
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, also a Democrat, said the alleged chemical attack on civilians by Syrian President Bashar Assad's administration is reprehensible but the U.S. must have an achievable goal before taking action. "It's critically important that we remember about unintended consequences," Warren said. "We may have good intentions, but the consequences of our acts are not limited by those intentions."
Material from the Associated Press was used in this story.
Mark Rondeau can be reached at email@example.com.