New thread on Iowa political views about intervention in Syria (updated)

Depending on how a possible diplomatic breakthrough develops, the U.S. House and Senate may not take any vote on authorizing the use of military force in Syria. However, several members of Congress and Iowa Congressional candidates have made additional comments on the situation since last week’s news roundup. I’ve posted the latest statements about military action in Syria after the jump and will update this post as needed.

UPDATE: Added reaction to President Barack Obama’s televised address on Syria this evening.

After attending a White House briefing on September 9, Senator Chuck Grassley remained undecided but leaned against supporting military intervention. Radio Iowa reported,

“I’m leaning opposed but I think that I should give our commander-in-chief an opportunity to explain his position,” Grassley says. “I suppose part of the briefing by Biden was my assent to that.” The Senate vote that was scheduled for Wednesday on a resolution authorizing a U.S. strike on Syria has been pushed back.

Another private briefing for members of Congress is scheduled for Wednesday and Grassley says he does plan to attend – and to listen closely. “I think I should take all that information and give fair consideration to all aspects of it before I finally make up my mind,” Grassley says. “Even after yesterday afternoon’s meeting with the vice president, I still maintain my position of leaning opposed.”

Grassley indicated that feedback from constituents to his office was running strongly against getting involved in Syria.

I have not seen any new comments from Senator Tom Harkin since he indicated last week that he opposed a “rush to war” and would be reluctant to support “a third open-ended war in the Middle East.”

Representative Bruce Braley (D, IA-01) made many skeptical comments about a military intervention in Syria last week. He is still seeking input from Iowans via an online survey at his official Congressional website, for which Republican U.S. Senate candidate Sam Clovis ridiculed him over the weekend. Yesterday Braley’s office cited the ongoing debate over Syria as one reason House Speaker John Boehner should cancel an upcoming weeklong recess.

Braley Calls on Speaker to Cancel Weeklong September Congressional Recess

Requests that Boehner keep Congress in session to address Syria, Farm Bill, federal budget

Washington, D.C. – Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01) is pushing to convince House Speaker John Boehner to cancel a scheduled week-long Congressional recess later this month.

In a letter to Boehner sent today, Braley argues that Congress has too much important business to deal with before the end of the month to take a week-long break.

Braley said, “Congress just spent five weeks away from the Capitol. With so many important issues demanding attention, Congress needs to work – not take another break. Instead of returning home, the US House should be focused on the President’s request to authorize military force in Syria, passing a five-year renewal of the Farm Bill, and passing budget bills that keep the federal government working.”

In July, Braley sent a letter to Speaker Boehner urging him to keep Congress in session until a new Farm Bill was signed into law. However, Boehner allowed the recess to continue.

Full text of today’s letter follows; a signed copy can be downloaded at the following link:

Representative Dave Loebsack (D, IA-02) released this statement on September 10:

VIDEO: Loebsack Questions Administration Officials at Syria Hearing

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Dave Loebsack today questioned Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey during a House Armed Service Committee hearing on President Obama’s request to take military action against Syria.  The witnesses also provided initial updates on diplomatic efforts to secure Syria’s chemical weapons.  As the only member from Iowa who serves on the Armed Services Committee, Loebsack posed questions about what the fallout from a strike would be. Loebsack also viewed classified materials and received a classified briefing yesterday. Video of the exchange from today’s hearing can be found here.

“Today’s hearing was an important chance for the American people to hear directly from the Administration with initial updates on diplomatic efforts and about their case for taking military action against Syria. The use of chemical weapons against civilians is morally reprehensible and should be unequivocally condemned by the international community. While these negotiations are in a very early stage and much remains to be seen, an effective and verifiable diplomatic path forward through the international community to secure chemical weapons would be a welcome development.

“However, after more than a decade of war during which time our troops and military families have made great sacrifices on our behalf, we must exercise extreme caution in undertaking military action. There are still too many unanswered questions from the Administration including defining the end goal for potential use of force and laying out the broader implications of military action in the region. I welcome the President’s address to the nation tonight and hope that he will answer these questions and provide an update on diplomatic efforts for the American people.”

Representative Tom Latham (R, IA-03) released this statement today:

WASHINGTON, DC – Iowa Congresswoman Tom Latham released the following statement announcing his position on proposed U.S. military action in Syria:

“Since the President started putting the wheels in motion that were leading our nation into military action against Syria I had agreed with the overwhelming majority of Americans in believing that the President had not made the case to justify such action.  However, out of respect for the president and the larger interests of our national security, I had not made a final decision on the matter so that I could have the benefit of fully reviewing all the facts.  That included waiting to make a decision until I could receive the classified briefing provided to members of congress by the President’s team.  I had the opportunity to see that briefing late yesterday.

I have seen no information – classified or unclassified – that would provide the justification for any serious minded person to support military action by the United States in Syria.  And so, my decision is very firm – I will not support any military action by the United States in Syria.

This would be an act of war.  And, I do not believe that we should be injecting the United States into a civil war, which is a sectarian war, with no clear or reasonable case on why this is vital to the security of the United States or our allies.

This process has confirmed the worst fears of many Americans and allies – that the United States currently has no compass directing foreign policy.  And, this current situation threatens our nation’s credibility and leadership role in the world.  Military action by our nation would only further damage that credibility and risk quickly igniting a regional – or larger – conflict that can be avoided.”

Speaking at a Polk County Republican event on September 7, Latham said

it is “irrational” to attack targets in Syria and kill men, women and children as a response to the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons to kill men, women and children. Latham also faulted the president for failing to build an “international coalition” to respond to Syria.

I haven’t seen any press release from the office of Representative Steve King (R, IA-04), but he commented during a conference call with reporters today that at this point he would vote no on authorizing the use of force. That said,

“To kind of find a diplomatic way to resolve this without a military strike I think would absolutely be welcomed by the House and the Senate,” King told reporters this afternoon in a telephone conference call. “If there’s a solution, let’s get on with the solution.”

King would support some kind of United Nations team assessing Syria’s chemical weapons and taking control of those stockpiles, but only if “credible” Americans are part of that U-N team.

King believes President Obama had the constitutional authority to order a limited military strike on his own in August shortly after initial reports that hundreds of Syrians had died from chemical weapons. King said Obama spawned a “global debate” by waiting for a vote in congress.

“I’m glad to have him consult us, but this has just turned into a diplomatic mess,” King said.

King said for the past 10 days he has avoided talking with the media about Syria until he returned from a trip to the Middle East and attended Monday night’s classified briefing on the Syrian situation.

Republican opposition to military action in Syria seems to be solidifying. On September 7, four GOP candidates for U.S. Senate discussed the issue at the same Polk County Republican event where Latham spoke. Sam Clovis said the U.S. has “no business being in Syria – not now, not ever. Ever!” Clovis is a U.S. Air Force veteran.

Joni Ernst faulted President Barack Obama for a “lack of leadership” and said “We are not going to Syria, not at this time.” She doesn’t see any “threat to America” coming from Syria. Ernst is a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard.

At the same Polk County Republican event on September 7, Matt Whitaker said he would vote no on military strikes against Syria, because “I don’t see how it is in our strategic interest.” David Young similarly said he would vote no, adding that he doesn’t “want boots on the ground, that’s for sure.” In fairness, no one in the Obama administration has talked about putting boots on the ground in Syria.

Last week, Rod Blum was the only Republican candidate in IA-01 to comment publicly about Syria. He followed up with a longer statement on September 6:

My daughter Sophie, like all American teenagers, has lived in a United States at war for most of her life. While it is my belief that some wars are certainly unavoidable and crucial for our security, involving our military in Syria falls far outside the definition of a just or necessary war. Our children deserve to experience their country in peacetime, especially when the alternative is entanglement in a Middle Eastern civil war with no objective, no allies, and no imminent threat to our security.

The President made the correct decision when he announced his intention to seek authorization from Congress before launching any military attack on Syria.  I applaud this decision. Our Constitution is clear: the decision to declare war belongs to the American people as represented by their elected officials in Congress. The President ignored this reality in 2011 when he unilaterally attacked Libya, but two years later it is encouraging that he has chosen to respect our rule of law before engaging our brave men and women, the best in the world, in another conflict.

That said, I encourage Congress to reject the President’s request to launch an attack on Syria. I think it is entirely possible that President Obama’s eagerness to engage our military in this conflict is a result of his desire to appear committed to the “red line” he spoke of regarding Syria’s use of chemical weapons. Saving political face is never a valid reason to go to war.

Further, the President has already announced that any military action would not seek to bring about regime change in Syria, but would instead be “limited” in scope.  What then will be accomplished? The President’s lack of a sense of urgency also indicates to me that he does not see the Syrian situation as a true threat to the security of the United States. It is my opinion that attacking another country preemptively is something that should only be done in the face of being attacked ourselves. I do not believe the current situation in Syria meets that criteria.

The American people overwhelmingly support keeping the U.S. out of yet another country’s civil war.  I strongly urge Congress to respect the wishes of their constituents, and vote against this authorization to use military force in Syria.

The other declared GOP candidate in IA-01, Steve Rathje, released this open letter today. He sent it via e-mail to all six members of Iowa’s Congressional delegation on September 9.

To the Members of the Iowa Congressional Delegation:

As all of Iowa and America are aware, the President of the United States has asked that Congress vote to give him the authority to launch military strikes at Syria. With this letter, I am encouraging you to vote against such authorization if and when the issue comes before you in either the United States House of Representatives, or the United States Senate.

While what has, and is taking place in Syria is deplorable, and the actions of Bashar al-Assad toward his own people unconscionable, these actions pose no direct threat toward the people of the United States, our sovereign borders, or our vital national interests. Rather than authorize the President to take military action, I believe our stance should be one of vigilance and readiness in case those interests and/or our allies in the area are directly threatened.

Further to be considered should be your response to the Obama Administration’s indication that even if they lose an authorization vote, they will ignore it, and continue to pursue unilateral military action against Assad and his forces in Syria. This move would simply be an extension to what this administration has done for the past 6+ years –ignoring Congress and taking unilateral action, setting the Constitution and all it stands for aside.

In 2008, this president ran for office while decrying what he called a culture of war, and so-called unilateral military action by President George W. Bush. Six years later, this president has become what he decried. I encourage you to hold President Obama to the same high standard he has held others to. It is clear that a coalition with France is not international authorization for military strikes either, and if Congress doesn’t approve military action in Syria, then we shouldn’t only deny just “boots on the ground,” but also any type of military intervention.

I encourage you to listen to your constituents and the people of America, as placing America’s blood and treasure in harm’s way should never be determined either by political party or who happens to be in power at the time. It must always be determined by the words laid out in the Constitution of the United States of America that each of you vowed to uphold and defend. Therefore, when this issue is placed before you, and you have the opportunity to speak out and vote against U.S. military intervention in Syria, I suggest you do.


Steven R. Rathje

A press contact person for State Representative Walt Rogers, who is considering the IA-01 race, told me today that Rogers “is opposed to military intervention in Syria at this time.”

Last week, all five Democratic candidates commented on Syria policy for this post. On September 6, Dave O’Brien followed up with this press release amplifying his opposition to military strikes and taking a shot at State Representative Pat Murphy (the likely front-runner in the Democratic primary):

CEDAR RAPIDS, IA – Dave O’Brien, candidate for Congress in Iowa’s 1st District, released the following statement today stating his opposition to U.S. military action in Syria and questioning State Rep. Pat Murphy’s quick decision to support military involvement in Syria.

“I am outraged by Syria’s use of chemical weapons on its own citizens and greatly saddened by the loss of life.  President Obama was right in seeking Congressional approval of any military intervention. This is not, however, a situation where the United States should respond with military force.  Syria has not directly attacked U.S. citizens or U.S. interests. The evidence presented by the Obama Administration that Assad used weapons of mass destruction is overwhelming.  The evidence presented supporting strategic justification for U.S. military action has not met that standard. Absent compelling evidence that military intervention will serve the future strategic interests of the U.S. and our allies in the region I must oppose a military strike.”

“I’m surprised and perplexed that State. Rep. Pat Murphy supports bombing Syrian military targets without Congressional approval. Apparently, Rep. Murphy thinks the president should only seek congressional approval to put troops on the ground in Syria.   I disagree and I think most Iowans disagree with that approach too.”


Murphy supportive of Syrian military strikes. Earlier this week the Murphy campaign released a statement saying:

“Given the information that we have and understanding members of Congress and the President have more intelligence on the matter. Pat condemns the apparent use of chemical weapons by the Syrian Government on the Syrian people. Pat would support appropriate actions to try and stop this.

“Pat supports sanctions on the Syrian Government. Pat also supports limited strategic strikes as long as the strikes are limited to military targets and that we ensure no civilians or civilian buildings are put at risk. He doesn’t support any strikes on the buildings manufacturing the chemical weapons, because an accident there could lead to serious problems.

“Pat does not support putting troops on the ground and thinks President Obama should seek approval from congress before he puts any troops on the ground.”

[, 9/3/13]

Speaking to James Q. Lynch of the Cedar Rapids Gazette,

Murphy fired back, saying he was disappointed O’Brien chose to politicize the issue and clarified his position on Obama seeking congressional approval for military action.

“The use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government on its own people and the appropriate response is a moral issue, not a political one,” Murphy said. “Like many Americans, I believe a response to this act is appropriate and I fully support President Obama’s move to get approval from Congress and the American people before acting.”

UPDATE: Several members of Congress released statements following the president’s televised address on September 10.

From Grassley:

“Yesterday afternoon I went to the White House for a secured briefing about Syria with Vice President Biden.  Today, I listened to the President directly when he came to Capitol Hill to talk with senators, as well as his speech on TV tonight.  I appreciate the complicated issues the President faces.  Still, I don’t think the case for military action has been made.  From what I have heard, Iowans strongly oppose military action by the United States. They have concerns and questions about what the President has proposed. If the goal is to deter and degrade Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons, how would a limited strike achieve this goal?  What are the risks of military action? What is the U.S. national interest in striking Syria? I’m still leaning against the authorization for the use of force that’s been presented. In addition, the Russian proposal to force Assad to turn over chemical weapons to international monitors presents a possible alternative. Military action should be the last resort, so this diplomatic offer, if credible and enforceable, needs to be considered.”

From Braley:

Washington, D.C. – Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01) issued the following statement following President Obama’s prime time address on Syria:

“I’ve carefully reviewed the case presented by President Obama and his administration for a limited US military strike in Syria, reviewing classified materials, attending classified briefings, and consulting with military officials and the Iowa National Guard. After watching the President’s address tonight, I’m still unconvinced that a limited US military strike is the appropriate response to the atrocities committed in Syria.

“I believe the international community needs to be more directly involved in holding Syria’s dictator responsible for breaking international law and violating the Geneva Conventions.

“So I’m pleased the President said he’ll explore options that further involve the international community in an effort to hold the Syrian government accountable for its crimes and rid the country of chemical weapons. I’ll watch closely in the coming days to see how these efforts at diplomacy develop.”

From Loebsack:

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Dave Loebsack released the following statement this evening after President Obama addressed the nation regarding Syria.  Earlier today, Loebsack questioned Administration officials at a House Armed Service Committee hearing about what the results of a strike would be. Yesterday, Loebsack viewed classified materials and received classified briefings. He has also encouraged Iowans to visit his website,, to share their thoughts about the situation in Syria.

“I think the Administration has been moving too quickly on Syria and am pleased that the vote to authorize the use of force has been taken off the table at this time. The use of chemical weapons against civilians is morally reprehensible and should be unequivocally condemned by the international community. While I remain skeptical of the prospects for success of the proposed diplomatic plan, we should always examine any diplomatic option that is presented. At this point I cannot support the use of unilateral U.S. military force in Syria. Too many pieces of the puzzle are left on the table to authorize such a dramatic step. After more than a decade of war during which time our troops and military families have made great sacrifices on our behalf, we must exercise extreme caution in undertaking any military action.”

SECOND UPDATE: Monica Vernon, one of five Democratic candidates for the open seat in IA-01, released this statement following the president’s speech.

“It is truly tragic what has happened in Syria.  I mourn for those who have died and been severely injured, and my heart goes out to the families who have lost loved ones.  President Obama has done the right thing in taking the time to make his case to the American people and asking for approval from Congress. Our military service members and their families have gone above and beyond, putting their lives on the line to defend our freedoms – time and time again.  In considering any military engagement, national security must be paramount.  With our national interest in mind, I do not support unilateral military action in Syria.  I support exploring all non-military options.”

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