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Paul Tonko on Syria
September 26, 2013 - Bill Ackerbauer
A fellow I know from Schoharie County recently contacted the office of U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, to express concerns about possible U.S. military intervention in Syria. The congressman's response was thorough and, I think, wisely cautious. What follows is the text of Tonko's reply, which I am posting here with permission of the recipient.
September 25, 2013
Dear Mr. D-----,
Thank you for contacting me regarding the ongoing crisis in Syria. I appreciate hearing from you on this important matter.
As you may know, President Obama announced his intention to seek Congressional approval to use military force against the Syrian regime in response to a chemical weapons attack on August 21, 2013, which caused over 1,000 deaths of innocent civilians. Authorizing military force is one of the most consequential votes a Member of Congress can be asked to take. I do not take this responsibility lightly. Before making a decision of this magnitude, I felt the need to be fully informed of the events of August 21 and the administration's strategic military plan. Despite my willingness to hear all the facts, I have expressed serious concerns about engaging in another military action in the Middle East, which I have explained in numerous interviews and public statements in recent weeks.
In order to be more informed, I reviewed classified intelligence reports and attended classified briefings with senior administration officials. While I am convinced that the Syrian regime, led by President Bashar al-Assad, was responsible for these horrific attacks, I have not been persuaded by the arguments that military force is the appropriate response at this time. After more than a decade of wars in the Middle East, American service members and taxpayers cannot afford to enter into another conflict, particularly one that does not directly affect U.S. interests or utilize a robust coalition of international and regional supporters.
A resolution to authorize force was passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but was never considered in the House. Had that resolution been brought before the House, I would have opposed it. I believe we do not have clear answers about how a limited strike would deter future chemical weapon use or how we could be sure that a limited approach would not escalate into greater U.S. involvement. We do not know if a military strike would have improved the situation, but it is likely that more civilians would be killed and rebel groups, some of which have perpetrated atrocities, would be empowered. The administration has said that there is no military solution in Syria, and I agree. Only a negotiated settlement can end the violence in the long term, which is why I strongly encourage U.S. officials to fully exhaust diplomatic options before considering military alternatives.
Many people have said America cannot simply "do nothing" while a devastating and destructive war that has caused the deaths of over 100,000 people rages on. I agree with that, too. The U.S. must play an active role in a diplomatic solution. I was very hopeful at the emergence of diplomatic negotiations between the U.S. and Russia to secure, and eventually destroy, Syria's chemical weapons. I hope the administration will continue to work on this option and avoid U.S. military involvement in Syria while the international community works to secure dangerous chemical weapon stockpiles. I will continue to monitor this developing agreement and its implementation in the coming weeks.
Furthermore, the U.S. has already contributed over $1 billion in humanitarian aid to help one of the worst refugee crises in the world. The Syrian civil war has created over 2 million refugees and 4 million internally displaced people. I will continue supporting this critical funding for humanitarian relief efforts for fear that the ripple effects of this conflict cause even greater instability in the region.
In recent weeks, my office has received over 1,500 calls, emails, and letters from constituents about this issue. I greatly appreciate your feedback, and I hope you know that your voice has been heard. Please contact me again to receive future updates on U.S. involvement in Syria or please visit my website, http://tonko.house.gov/, and sign up for my e-newsletter for updates on the many issues under consideration by the U.S. House of Representatives. My door is always open.
Paul D. Tonko
MEMBER OF CONGRESS
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