A turning point on Syria occurred yesterday when the Committee of Foreign Relations approved the use of U.S. military force in Syria. The measure will go to a full Senate vote next week.
Now that a vote is destined for the Senate and possibly the House, representatives are settling into their camps and issuing firmer statements of support or condemnation for military action.
The Washington Post has assembled quotes and a neat infograph showing where every Congressional representative stands on Syria. What follows is a very brief sketch of some of the emerging faction voices in Congress.
This group is currently in the minority, even though they managed to get their vote through a Senate subcommittee. Only 44 senators and representatives are in favor of military action, but among them are powerful representatives like Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner. Senators John McCain (R.-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R.-S.C.) are openly demanding a regime change in Syria that would require a complex military intervention.
Sen. McCain said, "Senator Graham and myself were assured that three things would happen as a result as a result of the U.S. reaction to Assad's use of chemical weapons. First, to degrade his capabilities to deliver those weapons. Second, to increase our support to the Free Syrian Army and resistance forces. And third, to change the battlefield momentum which presently is in favor of Bashar Assad and reverse it, which would then create conditions for a negotiated settlement and the departure of Bashar Assad."
Two of the most powerful voices advocating strong military intervention come from Democratic California senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.
Feinstein said, "I agree with Secretary Kerry that the world cannot let such a heinous attack pass without a meaningful response, and I hope the international community will take appropriate action." Feinstein was not alone in casting an argument for intervention on the grounds of moral outrage.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D.-Fla.) said, "As a mother I would want ... a nation as strong as the United States to stand up for my children."
Rep. John Boehner (R.-Ohio) said, "The United States, for our entire history, has stood up for democracy and freedom for people around the world ... only the United States has the capability and the capacity to — to stop Assad and to warn others around the world that this type of behavior is not going to be tolerated."
Some members of Congress favor limited intervention, even though this option has widely been perceived as a useless and destructive half-measure.
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said, "Whatever action the United States takes, it has to be limited action. This can't be an open-ended commitment, and it definitely should not lead to American boots on the ground."
Representatives against intervention currently hold the majority opinion of the U.S. public. There are currently 110 members of Congress adamantly against military action and another 100 or so who will most likely cast a "no" vote. The spotlight on this group has focused on well-known non-interventionists like Sen. Rand Paul (R-K.y) and (R-Mich), who have speculated that intervention could place the U.S. in another Middle East disaster.
Sen. Paul said, "I don’t see a clear-cut or compelling American interest. I see a horrible tragedy, but I don’t see that our involvement will lessen the tragedy. I think it may well make the tragedy worse. I think more civilian deaths could occur. I think an attack on Israel could occur. I think an attack on Turkey could occur. I think you could get more Russian involvement and more Iranian involvement. I don’t see anything good coming of our involvement.”
Sen. Mark Udall (D.-N.M.) said, "I don't think this is the time for us to get embroiled in the Syrian civil war in what is looking like a widening conflict between Sunnis and Shias in the region. And I don't think we've exhausted all our other options. You know, a great country like ours should only go to war as a last resort."
Sen. David Vitter (D.-La.) said, "Getting involved in Syria, after Iraq and Afghanistan, would make mustering our resolve to stop a nuclear Iran impossible.”
Rep. Rick Nolan (D.-Minn.), said, "Beyond the potential for escalating the conflict and the killing, we risk danger to our ally Israel, involvement by the Russians and the Iranians, and blowback to the United States by radical groups operating in the region."
Other representatives are responding to their constituents’ demands for help closer to home, or claims that intervention is illegal.
Rep. Alan Grayson (D.-Fla.) said, "There is nobody in my district who is so concerned about the wellbeing of people in Syria that they would prefer to see us spend billions of dollars on a missile attack against Syria than to spend exactly the same amount of money on schools or roads or health care."
Rep. John Duncan (R.-Tenn.) said, “We do not have the authority under our Constitution or even under international law to get involved in a civil war in another country.”
By far the biggest camp, 53 senators and more than 100 representatives haven’t yet made up their minds. This group includes some influential members of Congress, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Whip John Cornyn.
It also includes groups that would favor intervention only under certain conditions or that have reservations about the vague language of the current Syria resolution.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D.-Mass) said, "We need clear goals and a plan to achieve them or else the United States could get bogged down in another war in the Middle East."
Se. Carl Levin (D.-Mich.): "I again expressed my view that the United States should not undertake a kinetic strike before the UN inspectors complete their work, and that the impact of such a strike would be weakened if it does not have the participation and support of a large number of nations, including Arab nations."
Sen. Roy Blunt (R.-Miss.) declared, "I need to hear more … The broad authority the president asked for I think creates lots of concern."
Rep. Adam Schiff (D.-Calif.) said, "The White House has put forward a proposed bill authorizing the use of force that, as drafted, is far too broad and open ended, and could be used to justify everything from a limited cruise missile strike to a no fly zone and the introduction of American ground troops."