U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) voted in the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations to oppose a resolution authorizing military action in Syria in response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons. The resolution passed the committee by a vote of 10-7. The full Senate will consider the resolution by next week.
Udall said that while he believed Assad must be deterred from attacking his own citizens, Udall opposed the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) because he feared the administration’s proposal would further embroil the United States in the Syrian civil war. He further said he is concerned that the administration can’t guarantee that strikes would not have the unintended effect of further violence within Syria.
Udall added that he has received hundreds of calls, letters and social media responses from New Mexicans, the vast majority of them opposed to U.S. military involvement in Syria.
“We should not take it lightly that the American people are not with us. New Mexicans are tired of war,” Udall said. “They know what the administration is proposing won’t provide us assurance that Assad will not attack again – that it won’t ensure that his regime will not retaliate in some way.”
“The truth is that we cannot guarantee that even a ‘surgical’ strike will prevent the United States from being embroiled in war,” Udall continued. “We should not enter into a conflict until we’ve exhausted every diplomatic and international option. We have not done that. The risks of the actions we are contemplating now are too great.”
Udall has been a vocal opponent of sending heavy weapons to the Syrian rebels and further involving the United States in the Syrian civil war. In a speech from the Senate floor on June 17, 2013, he cautioned against action in the Middle Eastern civil war and was one of only three senators on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to vote against arming an unorganized rebel insurgency in Syria with links to terrorist groups.
On June 20, 2013, he introduced bipartisan legislation with Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Rand Paul (R-KY) to prohibit the president from using any funds on activities that would escalate U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war.
As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Udall successfully included an amendment to the Senate FY 2014 Department of Defense Appropriations bill that would prevent the use of defense funds for any military action in Syria in violation of the War Powers Act, which requires Congressional authorization for the use of military force in most circumstances. The amendment was approved by the full Senate Appropriations Committee by a bipartisan vote of 20-10 on August 1, 2013, but it was not voted on by the full U.S. Senate.
The following is Udall’s statement as delivered during today’s hearing:
Thank you Chairman Menendez and let me thank you and Ranking Member Corker for your efforts to revise the AUMF presented by the president for consideration by Congress. Clearly, this AUMF is an improvement over what was originally proposed, but at this point I don’t see how I can support it and how I can support it in the future.
I want to repeat that I am horrified by what Bashar al-Assad has done to his own people. He has committed a heinous act and a violation of the Geneva Convention no doubt about it. However, I still believe this proposal is the wrong course of action for the United States and its military.
I am voting no because this policy moves the United States toward greater American conflict and increasing regional conflict. This is a very complicated sectarian civil war. Some of the rebels share our values and want an open society. Many others are allied with al-Qaeda – and a greater threat to the United States than President Assad ever was. U.S. military involvement, no matter the limits at this point, will likely only pull us toward greater involvement, and with no clear end game.
I remain concerned that we have not sufficiently made our case internationally.
As I said yesterday, our attention should be on the source of Assad’s ability to continue to ruthlessly kill his own people – and that is support from nations, including Russia and China, which are cynically trying to hold the moral high ground.
Assad would not be able to maintain his grip on power if he were not being supported from outside. The full force of international outrage should come down on those nations that are refusing to allow the UN to act and find a solution.
Instead, an attack on Assad puts us on shaky legal ground internationally.
Just as the president is stronger with congressional support, we are much stronger with international support. But we do not have the support of some of our key allies. We cannot achieve a UN mandate.
Our recent history also should serve to make us very cautious. Vietnam started with U.S. advisers and a limited Naval presence. It led to all-out war and a quagmire that cost the lives of thousands upon thousands of U.S. service members.
The Iraq war began as an international effort to kick Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. As we all know, this limited military action eventually led to what is one of the greatest blunders in U.S. military history.
We cannot afford another Iraq, another conflict that costs American and Syrian lives and leaves the world less stable as a result of our actions.
Finally, I want to say that we should not take it lightly that the American people are not with us.
I personally have received hundreds of calls and letters from New Mexicans. I’ve talked to scores myself over the last couple of weeks.
Over 90 percent of the calls and letters have been opposed to escalating our involvement in Syria.
New Mexicans are tired of war. Americans are tired of war. They’re worried about the stress it puts on our economy and our military. They’re worried about the safety of our troops – their husbands, wives, son and daughters.
They know what the administration is proposing won’t provide us assurance that Assad will not attack again, that it won’t ensure that his regime will not retaliate in some way. The truth is that we cannot guarantee that even a “surgical” strike will prevent the United States from being embroiled in war.
We should not enter into a conflict until we’ve exhausted every diplomatic and international option. We have not done that.
The risks of the actions we are contemplating now are too great, and I cannot support this proposal.