Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, is now convinced the Assad regime is responsible for an estimated 1,429 deaths of Syrian citizens – including 426 children – with the use of chemical weapons last week in rebel-held or contested neighborhoods east of Damascus. But he believes any imminent retaliation by President Obama at this time would be unwise and unauthorized.
“We shouldn’t just be attacking to be punitive,” Risch said in a telephone interview Friday. “I have real reservations about this. . . .What concerns me the most is where are we going with this?”
Thursday a Risch staffer said the Senator was “leery” of the whole situation and that earlier government briefings on Assad and the upheaval in Syria didn’t seem to seem to have the whole picture.
But after briefings over the past 24 hours with the Obama Administration and the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees, Risch came to the conclusion Friday that Assad ordered the action even though United Nations inspectors were still on the ground in Syria on a fact-finding mission.
Risch, however, doesn’t believe the U.S. has “exigent circumstances” to allow the president to move ahead with what many believe would be “surgical” missile attack on Assad’s strongholds.
“The president needs authorization,” said Risch, adding that consultation is not the same. Calls to Sen. Mike Crapo’s office to get his views on Syria attacks were not returned, but the rest of the Idaho Congressional Delegation – Reps. Mike Simpson and Raul Labrador – already have signed on to letters demanding that Obama get authorization before ordering any military strike.
The administration position that “we have to do something” doesn’t cut it with Risch, because “something” is so vague and the impact so unpredictable.
“Who is with us?” asked Risch, pointing to Great Britain’s decision to back off. If there is a strike, what will be the reaction of Assad? More chemical weapons? Will our allies in the region – Israel, Turkey and Jordan to name some – be attacked?
“What effect will this have on businesses and Americans around the world?” Risch asked. If the administration were not expecting retaliation he wonders why else members of Congress were being advised to “vet their travel plans” with the State Department, especially those who might be participating in foreign travel during the congressional recess.
Risch asked a question that seems to be on lips of the majority of Americans these days, and especially regarding this Syrian crisis: “Are we the international police?”
Some believe the national opposition to intervention – including both Democrats and Republicans – is gaining. Risch is ready to return to Washington at a moment’s notice to participate in a special session where intervention in Syria could be debated. Otherwise, Congress won’t be back in session until Monday, Sept. 9.
Between now and then, Risch said, “there are just so many unknowns.”