Local lawmakers divided on Syria

As U.S. lawmakers prepare for a showdown Monday over whether to launch a strike against Syria, those representing the Chattahoochee Valley hold differing views.

U.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, both Republicans, have issued statements in favor of military action against the Bashar al-Assad regime. U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, a Republican whose district includes north Columbus, said he will vote "no." And Rep. Sanford Bishop, a Democrat whose district includes south Columbus, said in an interview Wednesday that he’s still undecided.

"At this point, I’m not sure. I have a number of questions that I want resolved," he said. "I need to know what is the strategy for Syria, what would be the objective of any military action, what allies would we have to support military action and how would that action be perceived by other Middle Eastern countries.

"Those are questions I just don’t quite have the answers to and I hope by the time I have a responsibility to cast a vote, I would have some answers."

Bishop said he and other members of the Democratic Caucus will be briefed by Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and other officials on Monday. He hopes that briefing will provide more details.

On Thursday, he issued a statement saying: “Without a doubt, the use of chemical weapons flies in the face of established international agreements and is an abomination of basic human rights. While I applaud the President’s efforts to reach out to Congress, any proposal to be voted upon should enumerate clear-cut objectives, should be thoroughly debated, and should keep in mind the full consequences of increased military action in the Middle East.I am currently waiting for Monday’s classified Congressional briefing and specific details regarding the language of the resolution that will be voted upon in the House before making a final decision.”

Westmoreland, meanwhile, said he has already reached a conclusion. He said he sits on the House Intelligence Committee and has many concerns about the proposed military action.

He said this isn’t the first time Assad has used chemical gas, and he thinks Obama’s decision to strike stems from the red line he set for U.S. response.

He said the rebels fighting Assad are no longer just local insurgents.

The group also consists of al-Qaida and other radical Islamists, he said, and it’s unwise to strike because the president pinned himself in a political box.

"We’re going to have groups of people who are not our friends getting a hold of those chemical weapons and I don’t think that’s a good thing," he said.

"I can’t support us going into Syria when the intelligence is a little sketchy at best, and we can’t get involved in every civil war around the world."

But Westmoreland said he believes the president has the congressional votes he needs with or without his vote.

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor have both endorsed the mission, and on Wednesday, a divided Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved authorization for force against the Syrian government.

Chambliss, vice chairman of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a statement released Aug. 28, "Based on available intelligence, there can be no doubt the Assad regime is responsible for using chemical weapons on the Syrian people.

"It is time for the United States to act in a serious way, and send a clear message to Assad and his allies that the world will not tolerate chemical or biological attacks," he said. "Continuing to do nothing is not an option. Short of putting troops on the ground, I believe a meaningful military response is appropriate."

Isakson in an Aug. 31 statement said: "It is appropriate for the president to seek authorization from Congress, although I wish he would have called us back to vote on this immediately rather than waiting until Sept. 9. I support the use of military action in Syria. If we fail to take strong action against Syria for this horrendous attack, then we are sending a signal to Syria as well as to Iran and North Korea that they are accountable to no one."

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