WASHINGTON – Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, is one of the few people in the world who has actually seen the Obama administration’s evidence against the Syrian regime, presented at a top secret briefing Wednesday – but he emphatically warns Obama’s case is not compelling enough to justify U.S. intervention.
The senator told WND he is not questioning the evidence indicating the Syrian government may have killed more than a thousand of its own people in a chemical weapons attack on Aug 21.
Lee said, from the evidence he’s seen, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad very well could have ordered that atrocity.
But the Utah senator in unmoved by the administration’s strategy and reasons for a retaliatory strike.
Even if he assumed Assad did gas his own people, Lee said, “[I]t doesn’t get me over the hurdle I need to clear in order to feel comfortable about getting the United States involved in this war.”
The senator is greatly concerned the administration’s military strategy won’t work. In fact, he believes it could make things worse.
Lee said limited air strikes would not destroy Assad’s arsenal of chemical weapons and might even provoke him into using them again, noting that the Obama administration’s “primary objective, as I understand it, is to prevent Assad from using chemical weapons again.”
But, during a classified briefing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey argued for action that Lee said “at best, marginally degrades the chemical weapons ability of the Assad regime.”
Lee severely questioned that strategy.
“What will prevent Syria from using chemical weapons again?” he wondered incredulously.
“They are proposing to take out only some of his capabilities. Is that established military strategy? If you take out some of somebody’s weapons, they’re not going to use their remaining weapons? I don’t think that’s a real strategy.”
The senator wasn’t insensitive to the plight of the Syrian people and he acknowledged “the world is a dangerous place” in which the vulnerable sometimes need the protection of the U.S. military.
But, Lee said the case he heard did not “tell me anything about how our involvement is going to make Americans safer.”
“Something that happens in another part of the world really can affect the safety of Americans, but they haven’t made the case that’s happening here.”
Lee was also greatly concerned he did not hear the administration say what it planned to do after a military strike.
The real threat to U.S. credibility is not what happens if the U.S. does not intervene, he said, but what happens if the administration acts without a plan for what comes next. Lee is growing concerned that the U.S. could easily become more deeply involved in a civil war.
The bottom line: A U.S. military strike on Syria is not worth the risk, and that’s why Lee said he still can’t support it.
He objects to Obama’s assessment that a vital national interest is at stake: “My main concern is I see a lot of risk to the United States with a lot of downside and not a lot of upside.”
Neither the evidence presented nor the administration’s argument suggested “this would make us safer or that this is necessary to defend the United States,” he said. “So that’s why I oppose it.”
He also emphasized there were “too many unknowns” that could all too easily lead to U.S. ground troops becoming involved down the line.
Lee said the U.S. can’t ask its men and women in uniform to engage in a military conflict that doesn’t present a national security threat to the nation.
The senator said he’s unsure of whether Congress will grant Obama authorization for the strike, but he suspected the strong public opinion he has seen against intervention could sway the vote.