Congressman sorting through Syrian question

Editor’s note: The following is excerpted from a newsletter Sixth Disltrict Congressman Derek Kilmer sent to constituents last week.

I try to send my e-newsletters every two weeks so as not to spam you. But with the urgent discussion regarding potential U.S. involvement in the Syrian conflict, I felt it important to share my thoughts with you today and to ask you to send me yours.

There is no question that the ongoing conflict in Syria has become a major humanitarian crisis and a cause of significant regional instability. This conflict, which started more than two years ago when protests against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad turned violent, has gone from bad to worse. In fact, more than 100,000 Syrians have died and more than two million have been displaced and now live in refugee camps in countries like Jordan and Turkey.

In the midst of this terrible conflict, there is strong evidence from intelligence reports (from our country as well as reports from France and the United Kingdom) that the Assad regime recently used chemical weapons, brutally murdering over 1,400 Syrians – including 400 children – and having long-lasting negative impacts on surviving civilians.

In response, President Obama has proposed a limited military strike against the Syrian government. Appropriately, President Obama has asked for Congressional authorization to take action. I have already participated in two briefings and will in the days ahead continue to seek out opportunities to review classified information concerning the attacks and the proposed response.

I have not decided yet how I will vote regarding whether or not to authorize the use of military force. I am still reviewing the intelligence and analysis surrounding the proposed military response. And I’m actively listening to the people I represent.

These are among the most difficult decisions our nation faces and I believe it is appropriate and necessary that we have a full debate over what action, if any, will be in the best interest of our nation. That said, I’d like to briefly share with you some of my initial thoughts.

Let me start by saying what I do not support: I do not support sending American troops into Syria. Having just returned from Afghanistan I’m more mindful than ever of the extraordinary sacrifices that have already been made by our service members. And I return with very little appetite for seeing our nation getting entrenched in another Middle Eastern conflict.

In addition, I do not support taking action that would start a larger regional conflict. And I do not support empowering extremist factions that may one day take up arms against the United States or our allies.

In the days ahead, I want to do everything I can to understand the answers to some key questions and key considerations that I am weighing.

First of all, I want to understand what success looks like and how any military action would promote America’s interests in the region and around the world.

What will be the impact of the strike in the short, medium, and long-term? Will military action degrade the Assad regime’s capacity to use chemical weapons? In what ways do we expect military action to affect our allies in the region?

Moreover, I want to be sure we understand the implications of choosing not to act. By waging chemical warfare against his own people, it is clear that Assad is openly defying the global community’s long-standing opposition to these deadly weapons. Assad now joins Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein as tyrants who have used chemical weapons during war. What message is sent to Assad – and to other leaders with bad intentions toward America and its allies – if they believe they can use chemical weapons without consequence?

Finally, what role will the rest of the international community play to deter further use of chemical weapons?

We need to be very careful about not being further drawn into a conflict that we have limited ability to resolve. While the U.S. is right to call for President Assad’s removal from office, we have to be mindful that U.S. military action alone will not solve this civil war. There must be a political solution between the regime’s supporters and opponents. The United States cannot impose that solution through military action.

As I continue to review the president’s request, I would appreciate you sharing your views on this important issue. Please email or call any of my offices. Your thoughts matter a great deal to me.

Thank you for reading. It is an honor to serve as your representative.