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Daylight between Himes & Debicella on Syria

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Black columns of smoke rise from heavy shelling in the Jobar neighborhood, east of Damascus, Syria, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013.

Black columns of smoke rise from heavy shelling in the Jobar neighborhood, east of Damascus, Syria, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013.

U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, is polling his constituents on whether the U.S. should unleash air strikes against Syria.

On the record as leaning against the military option, the third-term incumbent from Greenwich sent out a mass email this morning to his supporters seeking their input on the crisis in the Middle East.

“I am troubled by the relative lack of international support for the President’s proposed attack,” Himes wrote. “Most importantly, it is very unclear what would follow a strike. The Syrian civil war is complex and unpredictable, with meaningful risk of regional expansion, including into Israel.”

So how would Dan Debicella, the favorite to challenge Himes next year in a rematch of their 2010 contest, vote?

“With Syria, I actually think the president is right that we need to take some action here because of the use of chemical weapons,” Debicella told Hearst Connecticut Newspapers.

To be fair, Debicella expressed reservations about the scope of the mission, saying that the White House needs to define what the end game would be if Congress authorizes the president to launch an attack.

“I think the first thing that we should get from the president is clarity on what the goal is here,” Debicella said. “You can’t just go into a conflict without knowing what the goal is.”

While the Democratic-controlled Senate is expected to go along with the president’s call for air strikes, it’s unclear how the situation will play out if the GOP-controlled House rejects military action.

Here is the full text of Himes’ email to supporters:

Dear —-,

Perhaps the most difficult decision a Member of Congress must make is the decision to go to war. I would like to share with you my preliminary thoughts on the proposed attack on Syria and provide you with the opportunity to convey your thoughts before Congress votes next week.

It is clear that many of you are appalled by the atrocity in the suburbs of Damascus, but have profound misgivings about any intervention in Syria. For my part, I am assessing the circumstances surrounding the sectarian violence in Syria and the consequences of the United States launching a strike.

This weekend, I flew to DC to attend a classified briefing with intelligence officials on last months’ chemical weapons attack in Syria. There is little doubt in my mind that Assad undertook this attack, but the case is not absolute. Considering what we went through ten years ago with bad intelligence, I want to see more.

I am troubled by the relative lack of international support for the President’s proposed attack. In contrast to the intervention in Libya, the proposed US strike does not enjoy the support of the UN, of NATO, or of the Arab League. An alliance comprised of Sunni Gulf monarchies with questionable human rights records, and France, the former colonial power in Lebanon and Syria, and only a handful of other countries – mostly without significant military resources of their own – seems insufficient to me.

Most importantly, it is very unclear what would follow a strike. The Syrian civil war is complex and unpredictable, with meaningful risk of regional expansion, including into Israel. As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, I can say with some authority that a strike and ensuing chaos opens the possibility of chemical weapons falling into the hands of Hezbollah or al-Qaeda affiliated rebel groups. Hezbollah or Iran could respond to a strike with an attack on Israel, Turkey or Jordan. If we are to get involved, we must be very clear on the specific objectives and possible consequences of any military action we may pursue.

The President has forcefully articulated the potential loss of international credibility should we not respond to the use of chemical weapons. Whatever you think of the remarks the President made on red lines, he made them, and I am concerned about what the leadership of Iran may think when a US red line is not enforced. I worry Iran may be emboldened to accelerate its development of a military nuclear capability and that Assad might use chemical weapons again if unchallenged.

As I continue to review the evidence, prospects, and possible outcomes, I want to hear your opinion. There are no easy answers in this deeply serious situation. I look forward to receiving your thoughts.

Sincerely,
Jim

Categories: General
Neil Vigdor

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