WASHINGTON — Sen. Chris Murphy voted against President Obama’s plan to take military action against Syria and warned that such an attack could involve the U.S. in the civil war ”in a way that will be difficult to untangle.”
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 10-7 Wednesday in favor of a resolution authorizing Obama to order a ”limited and tailored” military attack ”against legitimate military targets in Syria.”
Murphy, D-Conn., was one of two Democrats who joined with five Republicans to vote against the resolution; seven Democrats and three Republicans supported the measure. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., voted present.
The resolution set a 90-day time limit for presidential action and specifically barred ground troops for combat. Those restrictions were pushed by committee members concerned that the original White House proposal was too open-ended.
Another amendment sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., tilted in the opposite direction and stated that one goal of a military strike was to bring ”decisive changes to the present military balance of power on the ground in Syria” in favor of the insurgents.
The Senate committee vote was the first congressional test of Obama’s military authorization request. The full Senate is expected to take up the resolution after the lawmakers return next week from summer recess.
Later, Murphy issued a statement declaring that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against the people of Syria was ”a human rights atrocity and a blatant violation of international law.”
“It’s impossible to see the horrific images of death and suffering in Syria and not feel compelled to act in some way.”
But, Murphy continued, ”There is not always an American solution to every international crisis. For me, today’s vote was a close call, but in the end, I voted no because I believe that the downside risks of military action, both for U.S. interests and the Syrian people, outweigh the potential benefits.”
There is ”little chance” that targeted air strikes would destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, he said, and may ”simply prompt another deadly reaction from Assad as well as the countries that finance his murderous regime.”
The insertion of U.S. military power has the potential ”to further destabilize the nation and propel its descent into chaos,” he said.
Murphy expressed concern that the resolution ”will involve us in the Syrian conflict in a way that will be difficult to untangle. We are naive to believe that our support for the opposition, or opposition to Assad, will end in a matter of months. Taking sides in this conflict will likely commit our country to an open-ended engagement, at an untold cost to both our reputation in the world and to American taxpayers.”
He urged increased humanitarian aid to Syrians affected by the civil war and more diplomatic and economic pressure on the Assad regime.
Committee approval came after Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the panel that U.S. credibility was on the line following Obama’s warning last year that any use of chemical weapons by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the ongoing civil war there would cross ”a red line” that would merit a penalty in the form of military action.
Kerry and Hagel said failure of the U.S. to act would embolden Iran, North Korea and terrorist groups to conclude that U.S. threats were mere empty rhetoric.
Kerry said Assad’s forces used chemical weapons on Aug. 21 against insurgents, resulting in a death toll exceeding 1,400.
Kerry made the same case Wednesday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Obama said last weekend that he would seek congressional approval of such a step, though he maintained that he could order military action even if Congress voted against authorization.
Voting yes on the Foreign Relations Committee were Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Ben Cardin, D-Md., Jean Shaheen, D-N.H., Chris Coons, D-Del., Richard Durbin, D-Ill., Tim Kaine, D-Va., Bob Corker, R-Tenn., Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and McCain.
Murphy and Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., were the only Democrats opposing the measure; other ”no” votes came from Sens. James Risch, R-Idaho, Ron Johnson, R-Wis., John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., did not respond to requests for comment about the committee’s action.
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