The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


September 15, 2013

Shuster: I won’t OK military action in Syria

JOHNSTOWN — Syria is a mess. The country has been in a full-blown civil war since 2011 with over 100,000 casualties between loyalists to President Bashar al Assad and the rebel forces trying to oust him. Assad, a brutal dictator who has killed thousands of his own people, last month used chemical weapons to kill another 1,400 Syrians – a clear violation of international law.

While I strongly condemn Assad’s use of chemical weapons, I do not support a military intervention in Syria.

There is no greater decision an elected official can make than whether or not to send our armed forces into conflict.  As Pennsylvania’s 9th District representative to the House of Representatives, and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, it is my duty to make national security decisions based on the interests of the United States of America.

After numerous briefings from national security staff and members of the president’s national security team, including the secretaries of state and defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and the director of National Security, along with an outpouring of feedback from my constituents, I have come to the decision that I will oppose authorizing the president to use force in Syria. I have come to this conclusion based on the following:

n President Obama’s strategy is not clear and he has yet to articulate an objective to be achieved by military intervention. Instead, the president created a lot of uncertainty stating that he wants to degrade command and control – to punish the regime and stop them from using weapons of mass destruction (WMD). I do not believe that a “very limited” operational strike will achieve that objective; in fact, I think it will empower the rebels. The opposition is comprised of over 1,000 rebel formations that include so-called moderate foreign fighters such as al- Qaida and other Islamic extremists. Ousting Assad may be the common thread that stitches these rebel groups together, but their actions and operations are as diverse as they are extreme. I believe the president’s plan to degrade command and control of the regime will allow for an even worse-case scenario – an opportunity for chemical weapons to be acquired by al-Qaida and other radical Islamic rebels.  

n It is not in our national interest for the U.S. to become involved in Syria. A military strike would result in entangling the U.S. in a chaotic and complicated civil war with a ruthless dictator on one side and factional rebel groups that includes al-Qaida and Islamic extremists on the other. I am convinced that such military action is not in our national interest.

n In this time of limited budgets and fiscal uncertainty, the United States cannot afford to involve itself in this conflict. It is irresponsible to send our military into action after extended overseas operations without pledging to restore funding that has already been cut. The president has already slashed the defense budget by $1.2 trillion over the past five years. How can Congress, in good faith, authorize military action in Syria in the midst of a sequester that is poised to cut another $50 billion from our military budget?

At Tuesday’s Armed Services hearing, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel even said that 10 years of defense cuts under sequestration would be more damaging than the situation in Syria.  

I will finish as I began. Syria is a mess, and it is not in the national security interest of the United States to use military force. I will vote no on this resolution to authorize the president to use military force in Syria.

U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster of Hollidaysburg represents the 9th Congressional District, which includes parts of Cambria and Somerset counties.

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