Idaho’s Labrador on Syria: ‘We are not the police force of the world’

Idaho GOP Congressman Raul Labrador uses his weekly electronic newsletter to reaffirm his opposition to use of force in Syria, recounting an exchange with a veteran whose son served in Afghanistan and is “no longer the same.”

In an 800-word essay, Labrador says the woman, whose husband also is a veteran, begged him to “keep us out of Syria.”

Labrador recounts meeting the woman at the Boise Philharmonic’s “Americana” concert Aug. 30 in Eagle and himself being moved by a piece by composer John Williams from the World War II film, “Saving Private Ryan.”

“As I was listening to the music, I could not stop thinking about the many men and women who had given their lives in defense of our country and ached for them and their families,” Labrador writes. “I also thought about those who could lose their lives if we got embroiled in a conflict in Syria.

“As I was leaving the concert, a woman approached me.  She sheepishly asked if she could just take a few minutes of my time. I, of course, agreed to talk to her. She looked me in the eye and said emphatically, ‘Congressman, please promise me that you are going to do everything you can to keep us out of Syria. I am the mother of a young soldier who returned from Afghanistan and he is no longer the same. My husband served in the military and I am a veteran. We have no business in Syria; we don’t need to get involved in their sectarian battles.  I beg you, keep us out of Syria.’  In the days that followed, I could not get her voice out of my head.  Because of families like hers, all members of Congress have a moral responsibility to deliberate and ponder about our current situation in Syria.”

Labrador also writes:

“I am opposed to the use of military force against Syria at this time.  I gave the Administration a chance to make their case, but they couldn’t make it. Nothing they said changed the fact that we are not the police force of the world, we don’t have a compelling national interest in Syria, and it’s doubtful that an alternative government in Syria will be better than the current one. After our experience in Iraq, I couldn’t think of anything worse than putting our brave service members in harm’s way to police a civil war in a place where we have no vital interests.  Better options are available, and we should use them.”

The full essay follows:

On September 11, I joined my colleagues on the Capitol steps to honor the thousands of Americans who were killed in the terrorist attacks twelve years ago.  There were so many heroes that day – in New York, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  There were so many acts of courage and sacrifice.   I truly believe that the most important lesson of 9/11 is the strength and character of the American people.  As George W. Bush said in the day’s aftermath, “These acts shattered steel, but they cannot dent the steelof American resolve.”  Twelve years later, with Osama bin-Laden dead and Freedom Tower towering over the New York skyline, those words proved prophetic.

But we should never forget that war comes with terrible costs.  We should only go to war when it’s in our national interest, and when all other options have been exhausted. I was one of the first members of Congress to sign a letter to President Obama demanding that he get Congressional authorization before taking our country to war.  We eventually got 140 Members to sign it.   With opposition growing, the President eventually decided that it would be better to seek Congressional authorization.  It was expected that Congress would vote on authorization last week, but progress on the diplomatic front pushed the vote off indefinitely.  Now, there is new hope for a negotiated settlement – one that keeps us out of war, while keeping our brave servicemen and women out of harm’s way.  We could not allow the president to take action there without a proper debate in Congress.  The President did eventually agree to get authorization from Congress, and I have commended him for taking a deliberate approach for military action in Syria.  But the debate over Syria is far from over.

I am opposed to the use of military force against Syria at this time.  I gave the Administration a chance to make their case, but they couldn’t make it. Nothing they said changed the fact that we are not the police force of the world, we don’t have a compelling national interest in Syria, and it’s doubtful that an alternative government in Syria will be better than the current one. After our experience in Iraq, I couldn’t think of anything worse than putting our brave service members in harm’s way to police a civil war in a place where we have no vital interests.  Better options are available, and we should use them.
We owe it to our heroes in uniform to never commit them to battle unless it’s done with careful deliberation.  This principle was reinforced a few weeks ago while I was attending a Boise Philharmonic concert with my wife, Becca.  The theme of the evening was Americana.  We heard beautiful renditions of the music of Aaron Copland, John Phillip Sousa and others.  One of the most beautiful pieces was the Hymn to the Fallenby John Williams from the movie Saving Private Ryan.  As I was listening to the music, I could not stop thinking about the many men and women who had given their lives in defense of our country and ached for them and their families.  I also thought about those who could lose their lives if we got embroiled in a conflict in Syria.
As I was leaving the concert, a woman approached me.  She sheepishly asked if she could just take a few minutes of my time.  I, of course, agreed to talk to her.  She looked me in the eye and said emphatically, “Congressman, please promise me that you are going to do everything you can to keep us out of Syria.  I am the mother of a young soldier who returned from Afghanistan and he is no longer the same.  My husband served in the military and I am a veteran.  We have no business in Syria; we don’t need to get involved in their sectarian battles.  I beg you, keep us out of Syria.”  In the days that followed, I could not get her voice out of my head.  Because of families like hers, all members of Congress have a moral responsibility to deliberate and ponder about our current situation in Syria.

With the twelfth anniversary of 9/11 having just passed, and with the debate over Syria continuing, I want to thank all members of our armed forces.  I also want to thank the kindly woman I met at the Boise Philharmonic concert who took the time to share with me her heartfelt and sincere thoughts about our current situation.  I am grateful for the sacrifice so many families like hers have made for our nation.  God bless!

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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