Ros-Lehtinen on bombing Syria: “My heart says yes but my head says no”

Ros-Lehtinen on bombing Syria: “My heart says yes but my head says no”

Airstrikes against Syria are tempting but ultimately not a good idea, House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) told The Cable today, reacting to the Monday call for airstrikes from Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), also first reported here.

It’s not easy these days to be more hawkish than Ros-Lehtinen, but that’s where McCain ended up today after he called for the United States to lead an international military intervention in Syria to halt the killing of civilians by President Bashar al-Assad.

"Providing military assistance to the Free Syrian Army and other opposition groups is necessary, but at this late hour, that alone will not be sufficient to stop the slaughter and save innocent lives. The only realistic way to do so is with foreign airpower," McCain said Monday. "To be clear: This will require the United States to suppress enemy air defenses in at least part of the country."

We caught up with Ros-Lehtinen, who has been vocally opposed to any outreach to the Assad regime since 2009, on the sidelines of the AIPAC conference, where she had just finished her appearance on a panel calling for more Iran sanctions.

Ros-Lehtinen told us she wants the United States to do more to stop the bloodshed there, but active military involvement at this juncture was just a bridge too far.

"Senator McCain’s heart is always in the right place. He was right on Egypt and Libya. But I believe that we’ve got to get our allies involved and get them committed," she said. "So my heart agrees with him, but my head says no."

Ros-Lehtinen said the American people, following decade-long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that seem to finally be winding down, are war weary.

"The American people and the constituents that I represent, they are cautious about getting involved in another military operation," she said. "I understand the humanitarian issues involved…  But I hear people saying, ‘Who’s going to enforce the no-fly zone? Who’s going to do all of this? Is it always the U.S.?’"

Attacks on Syria now could also create a "domino effect" that could lead to a hot war with Iran, which considers Syria a client state, Ros-Lehtinen warned.

"Senator McCain has been right, but I worry the Syria operation may be harder because of its tie-ins to Iran and what will Iran do militarily," she said.

She said her committee will mark up a new Syria sanctions bill she co-sponsored with Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) March 8. The bill imposes mandatory sanctions against persons that transfer or retransfer goods or technology that can aid Syria’s efforts to obtain WMDs and their delivery systems. Further, the legislation mandates extensive sanctions, including asset freezes and a travel ban, on senior officials of the Syrian regime.