Key lawmakers divided over Syria response

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. predicted on Sunday that a U.S. war with Iran would occur if President Obama does not act on Syria, now that is believed Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons. Graham’s assertion was one of the boldest among several top lawmakers on defense and intelligence committees who presented widely varying views on ...

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. predicted on Sunday that a U.S. war with Iran would occur if President Obama does not act on Syria, now that is believed Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons.

Graham's assertion was one of the boldest among several top lawmakers on defense and intelligence committees who presented widely varying views on Sunday talk shows of what President Obama should do in Syria. 

Graham, one of the most outspoken advocates for military intervention in Syria, made the prediction on CBS's "Face the Nation." Besides war, Graham said that without outside help for Syria's rebels, the result will be a failed state that is safe haven for al Qaida, loose chemical weapons, and a post-conflict flood of millions of refugees into neighboring Jordan.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. predicted on Sunday that a U.S. war with Iran would occur if President Obama does not act on Syria, now that is believed Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons.

Graham’s assertion was one of the boldest among several top lawmakers on defense and intelligence committees who presented widely varying views on Sunday talk shows of what President Obama should do in Syria. 

Graham, one of the most outspoken advocates for military intervention in Syria, made the prediction on CBS’s "Face the Nation." Besides war, Graham said that without outside help for Syria’s rebels, the result will be a failed state that is safe haven for al Qaida, loose chemical weapons, and a post-conflict flood of millions of refugees into neighboring Jordan.

"The longer this goes, the more likely you have a failed state and all hell’s going to break loose in the region," Graham said. "It’s a disaster for the region. It’s going to be a disaster for the world."

The Obama administration has reacted cautiously to its own intelligence assessments that Assad may have twice deployed sarin gas, a move that President Obama said would cross a "red line."

With U.S. allies publicly claiming they believe the gas was used, and senators demanding a yes or no answer, the White House revealed the U.S. intelligence community’s suspicions last week, but said it would draw its own conclusions about the evidence and talk with the international community before taking any action.  

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., Sen John McCain, R-Ariz., and Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., all pressured the White House to reveal whether it believed Assad already had used chemical weapons.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich. said, "Some action needs to be taken." Rogers said on ABC’s "This Week" that classified information "strengthens the case" that Syrian did use chemical weapons.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., however, argued that President Obama should be given leeway so that the United States can finish its own assessment before responding. "I appreciate his deliberative approach."

Graham, who has called for military intervention for months, advocated arming "the right" rebels and striking the Syrian air force with cruise missiles from afar.

"If you could neutralize the air advantage the Syrian government has over the rebels, I think you could turn the tide of battle pretty quickly," he said.

Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, of Missouri, argued the administration was busy consulting with Russia and other countries about Syria. "The president met with the king of Jordan this week. The secretary of state is busy with all of our allies in the area trying to get help in figuring out what we can do surgically that will get the result we want without making the problem even worse."

"We’ve got 70,000 dead people in that part of the world as a result of Bashar al-Assad," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Miss. "We as America have never let something like that happen before. We’ve taken action. Now, I don’t have the answer, I doubt Claire does, as to exactly what we ought to do but the world is truly watching America right now."

Chambliss said he spoke with Jordan’s King Abdullah this week, arguing the United States could strike air defenses in order "to enable" Syria’s neighbors to help.

"I don’t think we’re at that point right now, but we’re close."

Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge. Twitter: @FPBaron

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