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Pa. congressmen willing to hear argument for military action in Syria

A divided Congress and a suspicious, war-weary public stand between the U.S. military and a Syrian dictator accused of the worst chemical weapons attack of this young century.

President Obama’s decision, announced on Saturday, to seek Congressional approval for striking Syria won praise from the state’s members of Congress, though some expressed skepticism about the purpose, effectiveness and need for an attack.

“The president should have the chance to make the case to Congress as well as the American people,” said Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills.

An NBC poll this week found half the country opposes military action in response to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s alleged Aug. 21 nerve gas strike on Damascus suburbs.

The White House will conduct classified briefings for members of Congress as they trickle back into Washington before the summer recess ends Sept. 9.

“That will affect the debate,” said Sen. Bob Casey Jr. Casey, a longtime proponent of greater U.S. involvement in the 2 12-year-old Syrian civil war. Casey predicted support for a strike will grow as Congress learns more.

The intelligence showing Assad’s regime used chemical weapons “is as good as it’s ever going to get,” said retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency, and a Pittsburgh native.

“Intelligence isn’t designed to be evidence. Intelligence isn’t designed to be court of law, beyond all reasonable doubt. Intelligence is designed to allow policymakers to make decisions even in the face of remaining ambiguity,” Hayden said.

Video of the aftermath of the chemical strike shows people exhibiting symptoms consistent with exposure to a nerve agent, and the Obama administration said it intercepted a phone call of a Syrian official discussing the attack.

“If this isn’t enough, sell the jets and tell the ships to come home,” Hayden said.

The British Parliament’s vote on Thursday against military action and an intransigent United Nations Security Council limit the international support for an American military strike.

Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, said he wants “to know what plan, if any, exists to deal with potential retaliation from United States military strikes that could deepen and widen this conflict. Many questions must be answered if we are to move forward and go it alone.”

Doyle, who did not support the Iraq War, said he has a “high bar” for military intervention but “will keep an open mind” when Congress is briefed.

“Are we going it alone or will we be acting in concert with other countries?” he said.

Obama hasn’t defined a military objective, Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Butler, said.

“I’d hate to see the United States take military action that would make an even worse situation on the ground in Syria,” said Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley.

The country might have been “trapped” into military action when Obama declared a year ago that the use of chemical weapons to be a “red line” for the United States, Hayden said. But if the purpose of military action is in part to demonstrate American resolve, “we’re not doing very well,” Hayden said.

Obama said that a military operation “would not be an open-ended intervention. We would not put boots on the ground.”

That could lead to an ambiguous outcome, even if Congress authorizes strikes, Casey said.

A draft resolution the White House sent to Congress on Saturday says the military objective would be preventing the use or spread of chemical weapons, but Casey said anything short of crippling Assad’s air force won’t tilt the balance of power.

“I think it’s pretty clear now that, in terms of who’s winning, the regime very much has the upper hand.”

Staff writers Tony LaRussa and Bill Vidonic contributed to this report. Mike Wereschagin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7900 or [email protected].


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