Scott DesJarlais represents Americans in what is euphemistically referred to as “fly over country;” Progressives “fly over” it on their way from the Liberal elite East Coast to the Limousine Liberal West Coast. As such, the views of Tennesseans in his district are likely more indicative of the mood of the people than the statements being released from the White House and the Obama administration.
Representative DesJarlais took time from his schedule to talk to me today about the views of ordinary Americans on the subject of Syria and US intervention there.
While our conversation touched on any number of topics, there were several that stood out.
The most notable is that DesJarlais reports, as do so many members of the House, that his constituents are “overwhelmingly” opposed to the use of force in Syria. They certainly don’t want US troops on the ground there fighting either alongside Assad’s troops against Al-Qaeda or alongside Al-Qaeda against anyone …
Chief among the objections of his constituents is the notion that we know enough about what actually happened on the ground in Syria. DesJarlais asked, “If the case [for intervention] is so clear, why are so many dubious?”
The questions abound. There are no solid answers. The only things known for sure are that chemical weapons were used and some Syrian civilians died as a result. But whether it was a deliberate attack by Assad’s military or an accident by rebels tinkering with chemical shells has yet to be determined. Whether 300 or so civilians were killed by poison gas or whether it was almost 1500 is unknown. It’s unclear whether all the dead, whatever their number, were killed by gas as opposed to the myriad other ways Syria’s citizens are dying as they are caught in the crossfire.
Which begs the question of timing. DesJarlais asked, “Why is the President doing this now? Why is there a red line to be crossed now?” CNN reports:
More than 100,000 people have died in the conflict, which has raged for more than two years.
There have been massacres. Populated areas have been bombed. Blasts have targeted people lining up for food at bakeries. People have been decapitated.
Why is it only now that chemical weapons may have been used that a “red line” has been crossed necessitating a US military response? Not to diminish the horror of deploying chemical weapons. But surely at least some of the things done in Syria to produce the death of over 100,000 human beings rise to a similar level. Why are we talking about punishing the Syrian government only now?
The method President Obama has said would be employed is equally troubling. Targeted missile strikes. The stated purpose is to punish Syria, not to drive Assad from power. But there is a huge potential for trouble there. DesJarlais notes, “Terms like precision or surgical strikes are misleading. These are hugely destructive weapons. There is always the chance, and often the reality, of collateral damage. In addition, our attack may put our ally Israel at risk of attack. To say nothing of how Russia or others may respond.”
Boiled down, the US is going to respond to missile payloads killing civilians with missile payloads which have a distinct possibility of killing civilians. Congressman DesJarlais pointed to President Obama’s recent policy of traveling around the world, particularly the Arab world, and apologizing for exactly the same sort of actions taken by other American Presidents. Which makes the president’s idea more than a little ironic.
At least the President is finally coming to Congress to get approval. It doesn’t look particularly good for him. While there are many Senators on the record as supporting the idea, there are few in the House. DesJarlais certainly isn’t supporting the President. He said,
I have yet to see a compelling reason to commit American forces for a situation where our choices are either Bashar al-Assad or Hezbollah, al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood and the myriad of other extremist jihadist groups that make up the Syrian rebels. None of those groups deserve any of our support, either directly or indirectly.
Even with some support for the president, there are problems. While the Senate Foreign Relations Committee did pass the resolution out of committee today, it was a deeply split vote; 10-7 with one Senator voting merely “Present.” The measure goes to the full Senate next week. Even if it passes there, the real obstacle is the House of Representatives and congressmen like Scott DesJarlais.
For his part, DesJarlais welcomed the President submitting his plan to Congress. He has heard his district and done his homework. He has attended the briefings and heard the testimony. Now it’s time for the President to make his case in a thoughtful manner. Then Congress can speak.