Senator Coats Delivers Remarks on Syria
Coats says President Obama must explain to American people what will be achieved by attack
Monday, September 09, 2013 10:00 PM
Senator Dan Coats (R-Ind.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the president's request for congressional authorization to strike Syria.
"Make no mistake, it is the credibility issue that has brought us to this pass, and the credibility issue is of President Obama's own making - his and his alone," said Coats in his remarks on the Senate floor. "So tomorrow evening, the president will need to explain to the American people exactly what will be achieved by this limited, focused attack beyond simply a token punishment for a horrendous crime and defense of his credibility.
The full text of Coats' remarks on the Senate floor is below:
"The president will make his case to the American people tomorrow, finally, to explain why he wants to take military action against Syria. This explanation is long overdue.
"I have a pretty good idea of what I expect he will say. First, he will explain that we have compelling evidence that the Assad regime used long-banned chemical weapons to murder its own people. This is not seriously contested. Neither I nor perhaps any of my colleagues here dispute these sad facts, well documented by our intelligence sources.
"Then the president will most likely explain that such a horrendous violation of norms deserves a worldwide response of condemnation. Who could look at those rooms full of dead children and not agree that the perpetrators must face consequences for their crimes?
"Third, the president surely will discuss the issue of credibility. He is likely to maintain - as he did recently in Stockholm - that it is not his own credibility, nor even American credibility, but the credibility of the international community that would be harmed by inaction.
"I agree with those who say that the president's credibility and our nation's credibility are linked. However, with his now notorious and ill-considered 'red line' comment, President Obama has forced us to debate a military attack in yet another Middle East country. Unfortunately, it appears the purpose of the military attack is, first and foremost, to defend his own credibility. I am certain that if the president had not drawn his 'red line,' we would not be having this discussion. In that case, Assad's use of such weapons would be roundly condemned as yet another example of his horrendous brutality, but we would be no more eager to engage militarily in his civil war than we have been as the other 100,000 Syrian people were being slaughtered by more conventional means. Make no mistake, it is the credibility issue that has brought us to this pass, and the credibility issue is of President Obama's own making - his and his alone.
"So tomorrow evening, the president will need to explain to the American people exactly what will be achieved by this limited, focused attack beyond simply a token punishment for a horrendous crime and defense of his credibility.
"The president has said that the proposed limited attack is to be a 'shot across the bow.' His secretary of State, John Kerry said it would be an 'unbelievably small' attack. We need to know what the plan is should Assad remain undeterred by this 'unbelievably small' 'shot across the bow.' What then?
"We need to know how this escalation is likely to influence extremist radical fighters now active in Syria, not overly concerned with limited demonstrations of US power. What will Hezbollah and Hamas and al-Qaida-affiliated fighters do when our show of force is over? What is the president's plan of action if the chemical weapons fall into the hands of these anti-American Jihadists?
"How about the always-threatened spillover of the Syria conflict into Lebanon or Turkey or Jordan? Will an attack intended to slap Assad's wrists while defending Obama's credibility make expansion of the conflict more or less likely?
"And most importantly, the president must explain more thoroughly exactly how America's national security interests would be served.
"The president must address these additional concerns, which are widely - almost universally - shared by the American people. We all know that taking America to war without support from the people is the surest path to disaster. This, I would suggest, must be avoided.
"Over the last week, I visited with Hoosiers from across Indiana to gather their input. Through these visits as well as many calls and emails, the vast majority of Hoosiers I have heard from are opposed to U.S. military engagement in Syria.
"Like all conscientious lawmakers, I know I must balance the expressed views of my constituents with my own judgment on how best to represent their interests and the interests of our country. In this case I must first ask myself - what do the people back in our home states know that many of the rest of us here in Washington perhaps do not?
"First, they know that America has been at war in far-off lands for 12 years. They have seen long, repeated deployments of their loved ones and they have seen the body bags come home. They are aware of the sacrifices that have been made in the name of protecting our interests, but they are less aware of positive results of those sacrifices.
"They see Iraq descending again into conflict as its own citizens continue to slaughter one another because of different interpretations of the Koran. They see a corrupt government there that authorizes over-flights of Russian aircraft bringing modern weapons to Syria to fuel a similar conflict.
"Hoosiers see an Afghanistan so deeply corrupt and ungrateful that the regime tries to extort huge ransom payments simply to permit us to remove equipment and personnel from that sorry country. They do not see meaningful progress toward a democratic, stable and humane government that was to be the objective of American sacrifice. And they do not see how our 12 years of effort have contributed to our own security.
"Hoosiers look at the spiraling disaster in Egypt, where the choices have been an extremist, deeply anti-American Islamic radicalism, or a brutal and undemocratic military dictatorship, both benefiting from billions of taxpayer dollars spent on weapons or lining uniform pockets. In the meantime, fellow Christians are being killed in their churches.
"Simply put, the people of Indiana do not see that American policy and action has attained meaningful results in the Middle East. Instead, they see a region of continuing and increasing violence, chaos, and disintegration. They are war weary and discouraged after more than a decade of wars that have not produced the desired outcomes.
"What they don't see is an articulate response. They don't know what our regional strategy is because no one is explaining it, much less pursuing it. They cannot measure progress because they don't know the destination. And they cannot evaluate this latest proposal for a fourth military engagement in the Middle East because they cannot see how it contributes to our own security here at home.
"Most importantly, they worry that a focused, limited attack on Syria will end up being something else entirely because so little thought has been devoted to unintended consequences. Yes, they are war weary, but the American people are also war wise.
"In addition to the above unanswered questions, one of the most important questions for me is how this proposed limited strike will affect Iran's perception of our resolve and our ability to prevent that country from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. It's not so much what we do or how we do it, but how Iran perceives the action that we take.
"This may be the most significant question of all because, unlike Syria, Iran poses threats to our core national security interests.
"Part of the administration's argument is that to do nothing would embolden the Iranian regime as they pursue their own WMD programs. But is that really so, or is it perhaps the reverse? Will a limited punitive attack discourage the Mullahs in Iran because of some degree of destruction, or will it actually encourage the Iranians because there is no follow-up option or broader strategic context informing our policy? If an attack is ineffective in altering Assad's behavior or fortune will it not actually encourage Iran in pursuing its own weapons program? I have not heard the administration address this question.
"Also, will a fourth military engagement in the Middle East make it harder to assemble popular and political support for action should Iran's behavior make that necessary? My constant fear during the past several years, as I have been engaged on the issue of Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons, has been that our country will be too militarily, politically, and economically exhausted to confront the real strategic enemy when our core interests require it.
"I fear that a Syria attack will make this problem even more difficult. To my knowledge, no one has yet to address this question within the administration, which President Obama like the previous three presidents has declared a nuclear weapons capable Iran to be 'unacceptable.'
"This is a deeply historic and profound moment for our nation. It carries an importance that goes well beyond Syria or even the Middle East. This debate carries important consequences for the relationship between the executive and legislative branches of our government.
"To refuse the commander-in-chief war-making authorities when he has asked for them is not a decision any of us can make lightly.
"We all must balance the views of the people we represent - even when they have been nearly unanimous - with other elements such as:
· The abstract, unknowable geostrategic factors that could carry profound consequences for generations;
· The compelling moral arguments that resonate with special strength in our unique nation guided from birth by moral principles;
· And now even the constitutional challenges that could affect the delicate balance we have maintained for two centuries.
"Before announcing how I intend to vote on the resolution before us, I will defer to the president's request to address the nation. In my opinion, consequential actions proposed by the president need to be clarified and numerous questions need to be answered before we grant the authority to the president to engage America into yet another Middle East conflict."
Dan Coats is a U.S. senator from Indiana, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and former U.S. ambassador to Germany.