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Congressional Reps Explain Votes About Syrian Mission

Syria map

The House of Representatives Wednesday voted to arm and train Syrian rebels. It was a vote that crossed party lines. WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne has reaction from a few area representatives.

The vote comes as part of a focus on defeating the so-called “Islamic State.” The House vote was 273-156 in support of arming and training Syrian rebels, though the measure does not include funding. President Obama thanked members during Wednesday’s Congressional Picnic at the White House.

“I want to start off by saying thank you to House members, Republican and Democrat, who came together today to pass an important component on our strategy for dealing with this terrible terrorist organization known as ISIL,” Obama said. “And I want to, in particular, thank Speaker Boehner and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi for showing us that when it comes to America’s national security, America’s united.”

Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern of the second district is one of the 85 Democrats who voted against the resolution.

“I don’t want to get sucked into another war where I don’t believe there’s any end to it,” says McGovern. “There’s so many questions about arming the Syrian rebels. Who are they? Are there any moderate Syrian rebels out there?”

He says he fears the weapons could end up being used against U.S. forces. McGovern also says there needs to be more discussion about the strategy.

“I find it really appalling that Congress is going to recess and not debate and vote on an authorization for the use of military force in Iraq and Syria,” McGovern says. “As we speak, we are bombing Iraq. The president says now we are going to now bomb in Syria. We have troops already on the ground in Iraq. We are told this is a multi-year operation, and we have no debate and no vote on an authorization? What we voted on yesterday was a piece of a strategy, and I believe it’s a faulty strategy, but it was only a piece.”

Republican New York Congressman Chris Gibson, a former Army colonel who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, also voted against the amendment.

“I maintain, based on my experience, escalating in Syria right now is not the best approach,” Gibson says.

Speaking on the House floor Wednesday, Gibson suggested a three-point plan.

“So empower the Iraqi armed forces and the Kurds; work politically to get a partner in Syria; secure our borders,” Gibson says.

Democratic Hudson Valley Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney also voted no.

“It has been done as an attachment to a shut-down-the-government kind of budget resolution. That offends me. This is much too serious to be ramming it through at the last minute and cutting off debate because we have some arbitrary congressional calendar in advance of an election,” says Maloney. “We need to take this seriously. My goodness, if the last decade has taught us anything it is that we need to understand what we’re doing before we go get involved in a sectarian war in the Middle East.”

Again, Gibson.

“Here it is, the Administration saying that they need a ground partner to conduct these air attacks, but we’re not even going to have a ground partner for six-to-eight months, and they’re talking about launching air strikes within a month. This is a problem,” says Gibson. “The other problem is these forces on the ground have not shown themselves to be military competent nor politically trustworthy. We should work politically in Syria; that’s the second point.  And the third point is we ought to secure our borders, commonsense point but, look, they have expressed a desire to attack our country.”

Maloney says he agrees with Gibson.

“Before we get ourselves involved in the Syrian civil war, we should be asking very good questions about what is our objective, who are our partners, what are the ground troops that are going to be used in this if they’re not going to be ours; and if they’re going to be ours, we should get clear about that. Even the chairman of the Joint Chiefs [of Staff] raised that possibility,” says Maloney. “And what is our exit strategy. And I do not believe that there are good answers to those questions. I do not believe that this plan has been fleshed out.”

Democratic Congresswoman Nita Lowey, whose district includes a portion of Westchester, voted in support of the amendment. Recently, she spoke on WAMC’s Congressional Corner about what she perceives as a threat following the beheading of two U.S. journalists.

“It’s clear that we have got to work together, build the coalition, because now, in my judgment,  ISIL is a threat to the United States of America and the free world.” Says Lowey.

Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel, whose district also includes parts of Westchester and who is the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, voted in support of the arm and equip mission, saying he understands the reticence of some of his colleagues to get involved. However, he points out that even faced with bad choices, the worst choice is to do nothing.

The Senate was expected to vote on the measure Thursday.

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