For now, Lipinski opposes attack on Syria
By Phil Kadner
U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) said Tuesday that he will not support a congressional resolution giving the president authority for military action against Syria as long as a proposal to have Syria turn over its chemical weapons to the United Nations is on the table.
Speaking before Barack Obama’s address to the nation Tuesday night, Lipinski also said he has serious doubts the president can convince either branch of Congress to support the resolution until the Russian proposal to have Syria surrender those stockpiles is resolved.
He said he couldn’t imagine the president continuing his push for congressional support for a military strike against Syria while such a weapons transfer remains possible.
Lipinski said he took part Monday in a confidential military briefing on Syria with the secretary of state, secretary of defense, National Security Advisor Susan Rice and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The congressman said he also was supplied with confidential intelligence documents on the use of chemical weapons by Syria.
“I am not 100 percent confident, but there is a lot of evidence that the Assad regime used chemical weapons. I am about convinced (it did so),” he said.
Lipinski said the intelligence documents explored the possibility that someone other than the government was involved in the chemical attack, but “there is simply no proof of that.”
There are claims that guerillas opposed to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad accidentally detonated the chemicals.
Lipinski said he could not support military intervention in Syria at this time because “there’s no guarantee that it would either reduce the bloodshed or deter the further use of chemical weapons by Syria.
“The big issue here is not just getting the chemical weapons out of the hands of Syria but making sure they don’t get into the hands of others who might eventually use them against us,” he said. “A military operation couldn’t do that. The way to do that, to make sure the chemicals cannot be used by anyone, is to have them turned over to a third party and destroyed.”
Lipinski said he has joined an effort by a fellow congressman to have the United Nations launch a war crimes investigation into Syria.
“Not just the Assad regime, but everyone there, because there are allegations of war crimes by both sides. And I think those allegations should be investigated.”
Lipinski said he has heard from some anti-war critics that if the U.S. should launch a military strike against Syria, it would be responsible for any negative consequences.
“And by that theory, if I supported military action in Syria, I would be personally responsible for the consequences of that action.
“But no one ever talks about the consequences of inaction. If we don’t take action, it seems to me we are also responsible for the consequences, in Syria or in other nations, and that Congress is just as responsible.”
Lipinski said he could support a congressional resolution authorizing military action against Syria, but the resolution would have to be narrowly defined.
“It would have to contain a prohibition against using ground troops, and it would have to contain a date of expiration,” he said.
But he again insisted that at this point he could not support even such a limited resolution, given the proposal for Syria to turn over its chemical weapons.
I asked Lipinski if anti-war public sentiment has influenced his decision on military intervention in Syria.
He said telephone calls to his office have been overwhelmingly against U.S. military involvement, but he had a somewhat different experience while recently stopping by a Metra station in Orland Park to talk to the public.
“I was surprised that so few people wanted to talk to me about Syria,” Lipinski said. “Of those who did, half were opposed and the other half wanted to hear what I thought about the situation, and after hearing that I would gather all the evidence I could before making a decision they seemed to go away satisfied.
“I believe a lot of Americans, more than you would think, still haven’t made up their own minds.”
I asked Lipinski how he weighs the sentiments of his constituents against his responsibilities as a congressman.
“I feel it is my job to gather all the information I can, read all the documents, talk to all the intelligence sources and listen to the public and then make a decision that is in the best interests of the country,” he said.
“I don’t discount what the people have to say, but I’m the one getting the intelligence briefings and privy to confidential information.
“If I ultimately thought military intervention would reduce the bloodshed in Syria or keep chemical weapons out of the hands of the people who would use them, I would support that.
“At this point, I don’t think that’s the best option. I think taking the chemical weapons out of play is the best solution.
“I would not support a military strike against Syria simply because we don’t like Assad or believe he deserves it.
“And I don’t believe the Obama administration wants to do this for those reasons. This is a very serious decision that needs to be considered in a serious manner.”
I asked Lipinski how anyone in Congress can believe anything the intelligence community says after the miscalculations regarding Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction.
“There’s no doubt that was a mistake,” he said. “In that situation, the feeling is the administration was supplied with the information it wanted to attack Iraq. I get no sense that’s the case here.
“Ultimately, however, you have to believe someone. You have to be skeptical, ask questions, but if you’re not willing to believe anything you end up doing nothing.
“At this point, I don’t believe the president has the votes in the Senate or the House to pass a military resolution on Syria.”
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