U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, in an interview Tuesday, Sept. 3, stuck by his Aug. 31 statement saying he will vote against authorizing President Obama to use force in Syria and added he will work to convince his fellow lawmakers that diplomacy and humanitarian aid, not military action, is the way to bring fighting there to an end.
“I continue to dialogue with my colleagues and looking to influence them to fully think this through and vote no on the authorization to use military force,” said Gibson.
U.S. military action against Syria became a serious possibility after an Aug. 21 nerve gas attack, allegedly launched by the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, killed more than 1,400 people in a Damascus suburb. But in the wake of the United Kingdom’s House of Commons’ rejection of an appeal by Prime Minister David Cameron for a sign-off on the British use of force, Obama announced late last week he would seek Congressional approval for a retaliatory strike. The president has called upon Congress to vote as soon as possible after its return to Washington next week; this week, legislators were deeply split, with some arguing that failure to strike Assad would damage American credibility and let a dictator get away with using chemical weapons on civilians, while others argue that a war-weary America has no place in interfering in Syria’s civil war and that any attack would be counterproductive.
For his part, Gibson (R-Kinderhook) says he’ll oppose a strike, arguing for a continuation of diplomatic efforts to end the two-years-running war which has taken an estimated 100,000 lives so far.
“Certainly I’m very saddened by what’s been going on, on the ground in Syria,” Gibson said Tuesday. “But I think if we want to make a difference, if we want to bring about a peaceful resolution to the Syrian civil war, then we need to stay on the diplomatic track and we need to work with the warring factions, the stakeholders in the region, bring them to the table…use our economic leverage as well, in terms of ratcheting up sanctions and pressure to bring a peaceful resolution to the civil war.”
As the debate unfolds, the Obama administration is holding number of classified briefings which it hopes will persuade reluctant lawmakers to support a strike. Gibson said he expects to receive one of these briefings, but he is unlikely to be swayed by its contents.
“I will be going to more briefings when I go down to Washington and I look forward to that, but again, my views on this issue are fully thought through, in terms of my experience and my belief that striking Syria will not make things better — it will make them worse.”
As he doesn’t support an attack on the Assad regime, he also is against arming any one of the half-dozen or so rebel coalitions, some of which are alleged to be allied with al-Qaida, saying even that step would “Americanize” the war. “I’m opposed to arming the rebels because I also think that will exacerbate the situation on the ground,” said Gibson. “Some of those rebel forces shot at our troops in Iraq. I’m concerned about empowering forces who mean to bring us harm.”
While Obama’s move can be seen as a risk for his own prestige and the credibility of the U.S. and is a departure from the modern presidential tradition of attacking first and asking permission later, Gibson praised Obama for his decision to consult the legislative branch. “That’s consistent with our Constitution,” said Gibson, who has co-authored a bill that would rein in the president’s military prerogatives under the War Powers Act. “The Founders intended for the people to have a voice, to express their views to their representative and their representative would think through those positions, come to the Congress, research the issue, have a full debate and have a vote on record before we authorize a military strike of any kind.”
Nor does he see the president asking Congress for an attack OK as a sign of weakness, or a political miscalculation. “I think that any time we follow our Constitution, we get stronger,” said Gibson. “Our Constitution was designed for people, to be self-governing, for the people to have input, and in this case, that means listening to our constituents.” (He noted that while he has gotten a lot of constituent input against attacking Syria, he’s heard virtually nothing so far from its supporters.)
Gibson said he isn’t buying the argument that the Assad regime must be punished for the use of weapons of mass destruction. “There has been use of WMD [in the past] that has not elicited a response. I do not support the idea of escalating the Syrian civil war fundamentally because it’s not in our interests, I don’t think it’s going to resolve the matter and I think the best way to achieve the desired end-state is to continue to work the diplomatic track.”
As of mid-week, serious lobbying was taking place, with House leaders John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi coming out in support of Obama and pundits across the political spectrum predicting legislative horse-trading and vote-corralling on an epic scale prior to the actual tally. Gibson was asked if he’d care to make a prediction on how the vote will come out. “It’s too close to call, or it’s too early to know is what I would tell you.”