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Anniston Star | Alabama's congressional delegation guarded on Syria question

September 4, 2013
In The News


Alabama's congressional delegation guarded on Syria question
by Tim Lockette    Sep 04, 2013
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Anniston, is "skeptical of the evidence so far" on Syria, but is withholding judgment on military action for now.

Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham, says "we cannot sit idly by" after the chemical weapons attack — but she hasn't committed to a position on possible strikes.

Republican Sen. Richard Shelby "wants more detailed information" on how an attack on Syria would play out. 

With a vote on military action against Syria expected in Congress next week, lawmakers are already hotly debating the possibility — and the wisdom — of another war in the Middle East. For Alabama's delegation, the response so far has been eight shades of "maybe."

For the past week, officials of the Obama administration have made the case for a military strike against Syria after reported use of chemical weapons in that country's two-year-old civil war. Secretary of State John Kerry has accused the government of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad of using the the nerve gas sarin to kill as many as 1,429 people in an August attack. 

Many observers expected President Barack Obama to order a punitive missile strike against Syria over the Labor Day weekend, but Obama instead announced that he'd seek Congressional approval first. 

The crisis could hardly have come at a worse time for Congress, whose members have been in recess for weeks, most of them traveling in their districts to talk to constituents. Asked how they'd vote on war with Syria, most lawmakers released terse official statements indicating how they lean, but not how they'll eventually vote. 

Shea Snider, spokeswoman for Anniston's Rogers, said in an email that the congressman believes the U.S. is in a bind with Syria "for one reason: President Obama's failure to lead."

Snider said Rogers is "skeptical of the evidence presented so far, but will withhold judgment on any resolution while this debate continues."

In a talk with constituents in Talladega on Tuesday, Rogers’s opinions seemed to vary between reluctance to approve war and frustration that Obama hadn’t attacked already.

“I don’t believe we have any business intervening in a civil war,” he said, according to The Daily Home of Talladega. “If he (Obama) was going to say what he said, then there should have been missile strikes within the first hour of his having hard evidence.”

According to the Home, Rogers said the U.S. should send troops to “the Jordanian and Israeli borders” to stabilize both countries and let the United Nations intervene if it wants to.

In a follow-up email requested later by The Star, Snider said Rogers "does not support any troop involvement in Syria."

Rogers wasn't the only seeming war skeptic among Alabama's delegation. Tim Johnson, spokesman for Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Vestavia Hills, said Bachus "does not believe the case has been made yet" for military intervention. Bachus was one of several members of the House who penned an open letter urging the president to consult Congress before taking action. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, issued a similar call last week. 

Others in the delegation questioned the seeming lack of an endgame in the Syria plan.

Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions told The Decatur Daily that he was concerned about the "lack of any strategy" in Syria. 

In a statement released over the weekend, Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville, took the criticism further. 

"Cruise missiles are not a strategy," he said. "The president by now should see that foreign policy is far more complex than that."

Aderholt also asked who the "good guys" are in the Syrian conflict, and asked how an attack could be done without "fuel(ing) the fire the Muslim Brotherhood and extremists are trying to ignite throughout the region."

Sewell, the delegation's sole Democrat, struck a different tone. In prepared statements, she said the Assad government "must be held accountable for … using chemical warfare" that killed more than 1,400 people. 

Sewell said ground troops were not an option, but stressed that the security of the U.S. and its allies would be threatened if the chemical attack went without a response.

"We must act with clear and strategic action," she said. 

On Tuesday, however, Sewell spokeswoman Hillary Beard said Sewell had yet to decide on a final vote. 

"She's still in support of the president but has not committed to a position yet," Beard said. 

Beard said Sewell and others in Congress are still seeking more information on the situation. Republican Sen. Richard Shelby in a short, prepared statement seemed to echo that. Shelby's spokesman Jonathan Graffeo said the senator "wants more information on what exactly the president's goal is, how he intends to accomplish it, and what the ramifications are."

Collecting that information can be a challenge for lawmakers on their summer break. Todd Stacy, spokesman for Rep. Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, said the congresswoman had been briefed on the Syria situation, though there's a limit to what can be discussed over a telephone line. Stacy said that before the vote, lawmakers would likely get in-person briefings containing more sensitive information, while in a more secure environment in the nation's capital. 

"She's still weighing her decision," Stacy said. 

Stacy and other aides said they expected a vote on Syria as early as next week. They also reported that lawmakers' phones were regularly ringing and their constituents weighing in on the possibility of war. Stacy said he's not surprised at the level of interest.

"This is a solemn decision of the Congress," he said.

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