McConnell Comes Out Against Attack on Syria

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and the Senate GOP leadership answer questions following a Republican strategy session on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, May 7, 2013. At right is Minority Whip Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. 
AP
Michael Catalin
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Michael Catalin
Sept. 10, 2013, 5:29 p.m.

Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell has emerged as the only top con­gres­sion­al lead­er to op­pose Pres­id­ent Obama’s pro­pos­al to launch a mil­it­ary strike against Syr­ia, poin­tedly re­buk­ing the pres­id­ent Tues­day while con­firm­ing his own hawk­ish ap­proach to na­tion­al se­cur­ity.

“I will be vot­ing against this res­ol­u­tion,” Mc­Con­nell said on the Sen­ate floor. “A vi­tal na­tion­al se­cur­ity risk is clearly not at play; there are just too many un­answered ques­tions about our long-term strategy in Syr­ia, in­clud­ing the fact that this pro­pos­al is ut­terly de­tached from a wider strategy to end the civil war there.”

Mc­Con­nell’s speech came as he faces a primary chal­lenge in Ken­tucky from busi­ness­man Matt Bev­in, who has already come out against ac­tion in Syr­ia. It also came on a day that many in Con­gress began to tack away from a vote on the use of force, in fa­vor of a dip­lo­mat­ic solu­tion. Mc­Con­nell was skep­tic­al of that op­tion, too.”Let me re­mind every­one that even if this is agreed to, it’s still a long way off to reach­ing an agree­ment at the United Na­tions, to Syr­ia gain­ing entry to the Chem­ic­al Weapons Con­ven­tion, and to even­tu­ally se­cur­ing, and des­troy­ing the stock­pile,” he said.

Still, Mc­Con­nell’s stance on a mil­it­ary strike stood in con­trast to his coun­ter­parts in the House, Speak­er John Boehner and Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor, who said last week that they would sup­port a use-of-force res­ol­u­tion, though they would not help per­suade their col­leagues to back it. Un­like the oth­er Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­or from Ken­tucky, Rand Paul, who op­poses the use of force on non­in­ter­ven­tion­ist grounds, Mc­Con­nell said that the U.S. should not with­draw from the world stage.

“If this epis­ode has shown us any­thing, it’s that the time has come for the pres­id­ent to fi­nally ac­know­ledge that there’s no sub­sti­tute for Amer­ic­an might,” Mc­Con­nell said. “It is time for Amer­ica to lead again, this time from the front. But we need stra­tegic vis­ion, in the Middle East and in many oth­er places around the world, to do it.”

Re­cent events have thrown the Sen­ate de­bate over the use of force in­to up­heav­al, and a Sen­ate vote that was ex­pec­ted Wed­nes­day has been delayed as a pro­pos­al to trans­fer Syr­ia’s chem­ic­al weapons to neut­ral mon­it­ors be­gins to gain trac­tion.

Mean­while, pub­lic sup­port for strik­ing Syr­ia is an­em­ic. A re­cent United Tech­no­lo­gies/Na­tion­al Journ­al Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll showed that 55 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans wanted the gov­ern­ment to stay out of the Syr­i­an civil war. The num­ber in­creases to 60 per­cent among Re­pub­lic­ans.

Con­gres­sion­al sup­port for us­ing force has like­wise re­mained low. Vote tal­lies com­piled by a num­ber of me­dia out­lets show that a res­ol­u­tion to use force in Syr­ia can­not pass in the House and could face strong head­winds in the Sen­ate.

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