Ever since President Obama announced his decision to consult with Congress regarding military action in Syria, neighbors, friends, relatives, and constituents have all reached out to me asking how I intend to vote. I am honored to be the voice of our district in this matter, and carry the responsibility seriously. Out of respect for the President, and to ensure that I was fully informed, I answered all who asked that while I was naturally skeptical of another war, I would wait until I received classified briefings before making a final decision. I have now reviewed the classified materials and nothing I’ve seen or heard has changed my opinion. I plan to oppose military action in Syria.
Congress had a vote regarding Syria just this last June when the House of Representatives considered the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The House-passed NDAA included language that, “President Obama should fully consider all courses of action to remove President Bashar al-Assad from power” and, “should fully consider all courses of action to reinforce his stated redline regarding the use of weapons of mass destruction by the Assad regime” I proudly supported an amendment to strike this language and was joined by 62 Republicans and 61 Democrats to remove language that called for consideration of military options in Syria. Sadly, we failed by a margin of 301 to 123. While the unfortunate inclusion of this language in the NDAA emboldened the President’s current course, I hope my colleagues who voted for this language have had the opportunity to change their minds since June. The horrific use of chemical weapons in Syria deserves a response, but at this time, the reasons not to attack Syria and the risks of escalation outweigh the benefits from the proposed military action.
First and most importantly, an attack on Syria does not make the American people safer. Secondly, the possible death of innocent Syrian civilians as collateral damage from missile strikes may increase local and regional anti-Western sentiment and risks increasing the ranks of terrorists. Thirdly, the lack of a United Nations (UN) mandate or a strong global coalition in support of military action undermines our legitimacy to act.
Finally, we should be cautious in evaluating who we are assisting. While there are responsible elements among the Syrian opposition that want peace and democracy for Syria, extremists — some affiliated with Al-Qaeda — are growing stronger each day, and an American attack may inadvertently strengthen extremists while undermining support for more moderate forces.
We must do more to discourage the stockpiling and use of chemical weapons. America has helped lead the way on this issue and signed the Geneva Protocol, which bans the use of chemical weapons, along with 138 other nations. We have destroyed ninety percent of our chemical weapons, and continue to destroy more every year. I encourage President Obama to deploy our diplomatic capital towards gaining more signatories and work towards eliminating the threat of chemical weapons worldwide. Syria, unsurprisingly, was never a signatory of this pledge. It should come as no shock that when a non-signatory nation like Syria’s existence is at stake, it might use all methods at its disposal to defend its regime.
Additionally, we should await the UN report on the horrendous events of Aug 21st, and continue to build a strong coalition to ratchet up pressure on President Assad in the form of crippling sanctions, building a case to try those who ordered the chemical weapons attacks for war crimes, and supporting the moderate opposition. The potential use of force should not be removed from the table, but it should be the last option considered after others are exhausted and a stronger international commitment exists. We must also make an effort to accept refugees escaping the everyday horrors of life in Syria into the United States, and encourage our allies to do the same.
One of the factors that led me to run for Congress was my opposition to the unnecessary war in Iraq, which was predicated by faulty intelligence and cost almost 7,000 American lives and, countless Iraqi lives. During my tenure in Congress, I have consistently voted against continued funding for the Iraq war and am proud to have been a part of ending the conflict. I am now in a position to stop another unnecessary war before it begins.
The President has chosen to ask for the advice and counsel of Congress, and with my voice and my vote, I respond: do not attack Syria.
Jared Polis, a Democrat, represents the 2nd Congressional District of Colorado in the U.S. House of Representatives. This op-ed originally appeared in the Boulder Daily-Camera