The controversy over whether to punish the Syrian government for the chemical weapons attack that took place there has done the unbelievable. It split the political parties and forged new alliances, creating unlikely bonds between Tea Partiers and liberals. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-FL, has become one of the loudest voices leading the opposition to military intervention in Syria.
Grayson is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which questioned Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Wednesday about the chemical weapons episode. On Thursday, the congressman appeared on the PBS News Hour and Democracy Now to express, first of all, his appreciation that President Obama put the question before Congress — but secondly, to make the case for not doing as the President requested. He sums up his own conclusion, that a ‘limited strike’ would not be a good idea, with four major points:
1. It not only isn’t our responsibility, but it’s especially not our responsibility to act unilaterally. He said:
You notice how, with 196 countries in the world, no one else wants to touch this problem … The international community has spoken. We are the only ones who are contemplating anything like this.
2. There is not a clear result that a strike can accomplish. It won’t end the regime or the civil war or even prevent another use of chemical warfare:
We cannot dictate, much less even influence, what goes on in Syria. It started as a civil war. It’s evolving into a proxy war between Shiite Muslim fundamentalists and Sunni Muslim fundamentalists, both of whom historically are our enemies.
3. A strike would be expensive, costing up to a billion dollars:
The best guess at this point is that the attack we’re talking about here, as it’s been described in general terms, will cost a billion dollars. That’s a billion dollars that could be spent, at least in part, on humanitarian aid to help the almost two million refugees who are now in Jordan and Turkey. It’s also a billion dollars that could be used for domestic needs.
4. It could spin out of control:
It’s clear that if the Syrian government does anything other than simply taking a pounding and ignoring it and brushing it off, and it retaliates in virtually any way, then there will be a war between Syria and the United States, and it will involve boots on the ground.
Grayson then puts the matter in perspective by talking about the enormous problems that the U.S. faces, that must be dealt with by Congress, and soon. Yet, valuable time is consumed by the debate over Syria at what is an extremely crucial moment:
… three weeks from now, there’s going to be a government shutdown, and five weeks from now, the government runs out of money when we reach the debt limit.
It’s appalling to me, appalling to me, that we spend two or three or four weeks debating whether to create a whole new category of war called humanitarian war, rather than dealing with our own problems and trying to solve them.
Americans largely agree. The Congressman told interviewer Jeffrey Brown that he and his colleagues in the House are hearing opposition to the president’s proposed strike by a ratio of 100 to 1. Furthermore, at the time the News Hour aired, only 20 members of Congress were supportive of the idea and 183 opposed.
It’s a novel idea that Congress might actually be listening to the people on this issue and that a new coalition, however temporary, is coming out of the process. The participants in the coalition surely don’t all have the same motivation, but what Grayson wants is to focus on the real concerns of the American people — the 20 million who are still looking for full-time work, the 50 million who don’t have food security, and the 40 million who can’t afford to see a doctor.
And he especially wants them to continue making their voices heard. In order to facilitate the process, he has set up a website, dontattacksyria.com. By signing the site’s petition, the people can send a clear message to Congress: military intervention in Syria is totally unacceptable.
Here’s a video from Grayson’s interview with PBS on why he opposes military intervention in Syria: