By Rep. Chris Stewart (UT-02)
I just returned to Washington, after spending the last five weeks meeting with constituents in my district. As I talked with Utahns on a variety of subjects, I noticed one common thread—the American people simply don’t trust their government anymore.
Recent scandals, including the IRS targeting of conservative and veteran groups and NSA monitoring, coupled with the President’s lack of a coherent foreign policy, have only solidified the reality that the American people don’t trust President Obama to carry out an effective military campaign in Syria.
The awkward proposal put forward by the Russian president after an offhand remark by our Secretary of State is politically convenient for President Obama, who was certain to lose the vote in Congress, but also naïve and likely to fail. The proposal assumes that both Russia and Syria are genuine, not just stalling, and that weapons inspectors would be able to do their work in a war zone. I find both assumptions hard to believe. If the proposal fails, the president may soon be in the same position that he is now.
I hope the president will not then move to begin a military campaign in Syria. As a member of the House Sub-committee on Intelligence and Counterterrorism, and as a former U.S. Air Force Pilot, I have a unique perspective that is important to share.
Like all Americans, I was shocked by the Syrian president’s use of chemical weapons. I recognize the potential threat to regional stability these actions may create. But I also understand that military intervention comes with considerable risks, that we need the support of the American people, and that the president has a responsibility to prove that he is capable of reacting to the crisis in an effective manner.
I don’t believe any of these thresholds have been met.
The president’s indecision—he was right to come to Congress but should have done so sooner—has given Assad ample opportunity to disperse his chemical stockpiles among civilian populations. This makes it very difficult for our military to mount an effective strike. The Syrian president has also been given time to prepare his defenses, which greatly increases the risk to our military pilots. As a former B-1 pilot, I find this equally unacceptable.
Without the ability to degrade Assad’s chemical weapon capabilities, what would be the purpose of a military strike?
While the President has said that the purpose of a strike would be to destroy chemical weapons, the only targets he could go after would be the airfields, transportation and command/control facilities—none of which deal with the destruction of chemical weapons.
A likely outcome of such a military strike would be to tilt the war toward the insurgents. I believe this would be a critical mistake. Having met extensively with senior military and intelligence officials, I understand that few of the insurgents are pro-western, pro-democratic fighters. Virtually none of them are reliable allies. It is impossible for me to justify interjecting ourselves into a conflict where there is no hope of a desirable outcome.
Finally, I simply don’t believe this president can be trusted to carry out an effective military campaign. For almost five years, we have been guided by his policy of ‘leading from behind,’ a strategy that was doomed to fail. The President’s lack of leadership in foreign affairs, coupled with his push to defund the military, has significantly reduced our power and influence in the world. A misguided military adventure into Syria will only make this worse.
Rep. Chris Stewart (UT-02) serves on the House Homeland Security Committee, the House Natural Resources Committee and the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, where he serves as the Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Environment.