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Feinstein, Boxer buck constituents on Syria strike

By
From page A7 | September 08, 2013 | 4 Comments

By Carolyn Lochhead
WASHINGTON — California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer are providing critical support for President Obama’s proposed strike on Syria, bucking what they acknowledge to be strong opposition from Californians.

The two senior Democrats play an outsized role as Obama asks the nation and Congress this week to support an unpopular resolution authorizing military force against the Syrian government for an August chemical weapons attack in that nation’s civil war.

Obama faces stiff headwinds from both parties and the public going into this week’s vote in the Senate.

Feinstein and Boxer joined the Senate in the early 1990s, giving them two decades of seniority, powerful committee positions and a long history in decisions on war. Both premise their support for a strike on Syria on a need to prevent the United States from being seen as a “paper tiger.”

Feinstein chairs the Intelligence Committee, giving her privileged access to inside information on the chemical attacks and intelligence assessments.

Boxer is a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee who last week provided a crucial vote for a war resolution that passed the deeply divided committee by a 10-7 vote.

Iraq war votes
The 2003 invasion of Iraq weighs heavily. Feinstein voted for the 2002 Iraq War resolution, a decision that she now regrets, she told The Chronicle last fall. Boxer voted against the Iraq war.

On Thursday, Feinstein asked the Central Intelligence Agency to compile a DVD showing the effects of chemical weapons attacks on victims in Syria.

She said she intends to provide the graphic display to every senator.

“I saw it this morning, and it was horrendous,” Feinstein told reporters. “We are having that DVD multiplied, and we are going to hand one out to each member of the Senate and possibly members of the House.”

Feinstein said she will be “as helpful as I can” lobbying colleagues. “Certainly they can be undecided up to the vote, but there is a moment of truth to all this,” she said.

At a Foreign Relations Committee hearing Tuesday, Boxer explained her position on Syria because “a lot of people have been asking me, including my own constituents.”

Like Feinstein, Boxer cited images of the victims.

“Children gasping for air, young bodies lined up in a row should shock the world,” Boxer said, urging a response to “Syria’s unspeakable deeds to gas its own people to death.”

Failure to respond would give license to Syrian President Bashar Assad to use chemical weapons again, encourage nuclear-armed North Korea and make it more likely that chemical weapons might be used against the United States or its allies, including Israel, she said.

“How many of us have been … where we see thousands of our troops standing … just a stone’s throw away from North Korea?” Boxer said. “Iran will view us as a paper tiger, when it comes to their nuclear program, and that is dangerous not only for us and our friends but for the world.”

Boxer said she voted for the war in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but opposed Obama’s 2009 military surge, urging a speedier withdrawal from what is now the longest U.S. war.

“I approach the Syria issue in the same way I approached those – with a very heavy heart and a very independent mind,” Boxer said. She said drawing parallels between the invasion of Iraq and military strikes in Syria is “a totally false comparison.”

“Sometimes, the easiest thing to do is to walk away,” she said. “I believe we cannot close our eyes to this clear violation of long-standing international norms. I believe America’s morality, America’s reputation and America’s credibility are on the line.”

Senate votes
Boxer said the Senate’s credibility is on the line too, pointing to a 74-26 Senate vote in 1997 on a chemical-weapons-ban treaty, and an 89-4 vote in 2003 on the Syria Accountability Act, a law that says Syria’s weapons of mass destruction threaten U.S. security. She wrote the measure with former Sen. Rick Santorum, a conservative Pennsylvania Republican and former presidential candidate.

“Shouldn’t the Senate stand behind its words and its actions?” Boxer said.

Feinstein said the “deciding factor” for her was the intelligence on Syria’s use of chemical weapons.

Last fall, she told The Chronicle that she closely read the Bush administration’s intelligence on Iraq, only to find out later “it was bad and it was wrong. That’s one of the reasons I want to see that that never happens again.”

She said Thursday she has searched for similar problems with the Syria intelligence and finds it “conclusive on the fact that these weapons were used.”

Given the evidence, “the rest of it is a judgment call,” Feinstein said. “Once the administration made this call, I think that there is a real need for us to back this up.”

Feinstein and Boxer said Obama is requesting a limited engagement, with no troops.

Public opposition
Feinstein spoke openly about public opposition in California.

“It weighs on me, no question,” Feinstein said. “Every day I get a report on the amount of calls, where they are coming from, what the nature of the argument is, and there is no question that what’s coming in is overwhelmingly negative.”

Still, she said, her constituents “have not seen what I have seen, or heard what I have heard. I like to believe that after 20 years that I have some skills in separating the wheat from the chaff. Knowing where we were when Iraq was considered and where we are with this, I don’t want to see nations use chemical weapons with abandon.”

— Reach Carolyn Lochhead at clochhead@sfchronicle.com

San Francisco Chronicle

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Discussion | 4 comments

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  • Chris LambertSeptember 08, 2013 - 7:32 am

    Constituents should pay attention to what Feinstein is saying here. She is basically telling us that an "overwhelmingly negative response" doesn't matter, that she knows best. Well, what the war hawks really do best is framing the discussion so as to eliminate nuanced alternatives to violence. It then becomes a simple (but stupid) equation: use chemcial weapons--we start bombing with "conventional" weapons. Of course, innocents die either way, but the hawks get to feel good about having "done something" about it.

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  • sasshaSeptember 08, 2013 - 5:23 pm

    Isn't Feinstein's hubby in the weapons manufacturing business? Gotta make their millions some way, ya' know..

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Rich RifkinSeptember 08, 2013 - 7:40 pm

    Richard Blum, Feinstein's husband, has no ties at all to the defense industry as far as I know. Likewise, his wikipedia page does not list any: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_C._Blum ...... Wikipedia does note, however, that he has business ties to China, and his wife has voted on trade deals with China which, in theory, could have benefitted her husband's business. Mr. Blum also is a UC Regent. Blum made almost all of his vast fortune in the private equity investment business. To wit, he put together deals for a lot of private money to buy what he considered undervalued companies which, if reorganized, would be worth a lot more money. In essence, it's not all that different from how Mitt Romney made his fortune.

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  • Greg JohnsonSeptember 09, 2013 - 9:22 am

    The brutality and lack of humanity of the Assad regime is unimaginable. Still, is killing with chemical weapons that much worse than killing with explosives, guns, or knives for that matter? I've read that over 100,000 people have been killed in the last year. Is the manner in which the last 1,300 were killed worth risking the beginning of world war 3? I do find it interesting that some people blame Bush for the hesitation of going into Syria. Many blame him for the bad Obama economy 5 years into office. Indeed, why not just name him the official Antichrist so we have a scapegoat for all further economic and political problems???

    Reply | Report abusive comment
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