By John Garamendi
When I read Debra DeAngelo’s column (Sept. 15) about my telephone town hall meeting on Syria, I was eager to respond. We didn’t get to her questions on the call for the same reason we didn’t get to more than 250 other questions: The public interest was especially robust.
Indeed, public interest across the nation helped mobilize Congress to pressure the president to seek congressional authorization before initiating military actions. Without this pressure, we might have rushed into yet another war in the Middle East.
I’m happy to answer her questions now. They are, in fact, very similar to questions I submitted “for the record” for the House Armed Services Committee hearing with Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on Sept. 10.
Grouping her first and second questions: How much would this Syrian war cost and how would we pay for it? I submitted:
What do we expect the military actions being proposed by the administration will cost? Please suggest a high-end and a low-end estimate.
We don’t know what it would cost. Military experts say a Syrian bombing campaign would cost “in the billions,” but if it drags on, then what? To pay for it, we’d borrow at the expense of domestic priorities, like we did for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which helped drive us from the budget surpluses of the late 1990s to the deficits of today.
Her third question: What’s the plan? I asked:
What are the specific goals of a U.S. military strike against Syria? How will we assess if we have met these objectives?
Proposed military strikes are intended to “deter” Bashar Assad from using chemical weapons and to “degrade” his capacity to do so. However, a U.S. attack could instead potentially provoke the regime to escalate its indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians.
Her fourth question: Would a U.S. strike prevent Assad from using chemical weapons? As I phrased it:
I understand an objective of military strikes is to “degrade” but not eliminate the Syrian regime’s capabilities to deploy chemical weapons. Would Assad retain some capacity to use chemical weapons after a U.S. bombing campaign?
If we take the military route, Assad gets to keep his chemical weapons, and he could use them, which is why I strongly support our diplomatic efforts to work with Russia and other members of the international community to secure and destroy those weapons.
Her fifth question: Could a U.S. strike allow religious extremists or other dangerous groups to access chemical weapons? Or as I put it:
If strikes fragment or destabilize the regime, could this expand and diversify the range of actors with access to and control over the weapons?
The threat of “loose chems” ranks among the gravest potential unintended consequences of a U.S. attack. If the Assad regime crumbles and al-Qaida-affiliated elements of Syria’s rebel forces access the chemical arsenal, we have exponentially increased the danger to the U.S. and our allies.
Her sixth question regarding the regime’s placement of chemical weapons in anticipation of a U.S. attack is a great one, and not one I submitted “for the record.” Fortunately, we are now collaborating with other countries to ensure that the Syrian regime discloses the locations of its chemical arsenal.
Her seventh question: Rather than bombing, shouldn’t we help the millions of displaced Syrians walking for miles to reach undersupplied refugee camps? The U.S. ambassador to Jordan recently explained to me that their government is fronting costs for desperately needed food and medical supplies for Syrians pouring over their borders, hoping other countries will help offset these expenses. As I asked:
How might the billions for military strikes instead be used to help alleviate the humanitarian disaster that has resulted from millions of Syrians being driven from their homes by this ongoing civil war?
As Debra notes in her eighth question, a U.S. attack on Syria could lead to disastrous consequences, and there are better ways than bombing to prevent the slaughter of innocent civilians and help bring an end to this tragic ongoing conflict.
I agree, and that is why I opposed the administration’s bombing campaign and strongly support the negotiated plan with Russia to secure and destroy the chemical weapons.
I welcome tough questions, and I ask tough questions. What I don’t welcome is a rush into wars of choice that we cannot afford.
— Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, represents the 3rd Congressional District, which includes parts of Yolo County.