Calls to Rep. John Garamendi’s office are running more than 20-to-1 against the United States taking military action against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
So far, Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, is right there with his constituents, saying Wednesday that he opposes a punitive strike by the United States in response to an alleged sarin gas attack on Aug. 21 in a rebel-held suburb of Damascus. That attack killed 1,429 people, the United States says, including hundreds of children.
“I’m a ‘no’ vote, unless there’s some information that I’ve not yet heard,” Garamendi said.
President Barack Obama is seeking congressional authorization for the use of force. A vote expected to take place sometime after Monday, when Congress returns to work.
Garamendi praised the president for turning to Congress for approval, but the congressman said he remained unconvinced of the wisdom of a military strike against Syria — and not fully convinced of the evidence against Assad.
“When you unleash the dogs of war, you don’t know who they’re going to bite,” he said. “They could very well bite us, … We should plan on Syria doing something (in retaliation for a strike), and that may cause an additional response on our part or (on the part of) one of our allies.
“What we have always feared is a regional war. And the current plan perpetuates that fear, causes it to happen. By our own action, we’re bringing surrounding countries into this civil war. Is anybody thinking beyond red lines?”
Garamendi’s list of reasons for opposing military action includes:
* The challenge of securing Syria’s chemical weapons: “A year ago, the Pentagon estimated it would take 75,000 troops on the ground to secure the chemical weapons. As recently as two weeks ago, (Gen. Martin) Dempsey, (chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), said it would be difficult to secure the chemical weapons without troops on the ground. So the issue of loose chems is a big deal.
“The (proposed) bombing campaign may target the command and control structure of the Syrian army, which leaves those depots vulnerable.”
* The possibility that an attack may cause Assad to use chemical weapons: “It may put him in a more desperate situation, (one in which) he will feel there’s no reason for him to not regain his power with additional attacks.”
* “The bombing will have civilian lives lost. That’s the estimate by the Pentagon,” he said, adding later that, “The Arab street is already very angry with the United States. The bombing would likely make it worse, certainly no better.”
* “The Unites States has been concerned about Syria being a vortex into which the surrounding countries would be drawn militarily. The recently announced alliance specifically has Turkey, Saudi Arabia, France and one or more Emirate states involved militarily. Therefore, the proposed bombing creates a wide military conflict. We already know that Hezbollah in Lebanon and troops from Iran are involved (in support of Assad).
“Let’s say Turkey sends military planes to bomb Syria and one or more of those planes is shot down. What’s Turkey going to do?” Garamendi added. “Syria has already shot down at least one of Turkey’s planes (in 2012), and Turkey did not respond, at least overtly, to that. Or an attack causes Syria or Hezbollah to launch missiles at Israel — and I think there’s a high probability of that — what’s Israel going to do?”
He said the United States ought to be working to gain international support that isolates Assad and pushes him to negotiate.
“That simply has not happened,” Garamendi said. “The U.N. secretary general has also made it clear that this (proposed) attack does not meet the requirements of international law. Pressuring Russia and China to allow for a U.N. action — we ought to be spending time on that.
“Is it hopeless? The only thing that’s hopeless is if you don’t try.”
Critics of the Obama administration have questioned the lack of evidence put forth publicly to justify the strikes and by nagging questions about the timing of Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons.
“All the information that we have” points to the Syrian military using the weapons, Garamendi said, but, he added, all of the answers “are not there.”
“All of the briefings that I’ve had just dismiss the inconsistency that would be apparent for Assad to use chemical weapons,” the congressman said. “He certainly has a stalemate, whether he’s winning or not, and the chemical weapons that were used and the deaths that occurred were to such an extent that whoever used them should have known there’d be international outrage.
“Why would he do it and why would he invite the (United Nations) inspectors in if he did do it? All of the briefings I’ve had have simply dismissed that by saying he’s crazy, anyway. Maybe he’s crazy, but I don’t think he’s stupid.”
Some who oppose taking action against Assad have drawn comparisons to Bush administration assurances that Iraq had obtained weapons of mass destruction before the U.S. invasion as further reason to be skeptical.
“Count me among the skeptics,” Garamendi said.
The congressman is set to take part in a classified briefing on Monday. A House Armed Service Committee hearing on Syria is also scheduled for that day.
— Reach Cory Golden at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8046. Follow him on Twitter at @cory_golden