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Idaho congressional delegation wary of strike against Syria

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho lawmakers in Washington, D.C., were deeply skeptical of President Obama's plan for a strike against Syria's chemical weapons infrastructure. In responses this week, Republican U.S. Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo and Reps. Mike Simpson and Raul Labrador all expressed wariness such a strike would enhance U.S. power or bring a swifter end to Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime. Risch committed to opposing a strike. Obama says Assad's government was responsible for numerous gas attacks, including one Aug. 21 said to have killed 1,429 people. In Tuesday's Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, however, Risch worried a post-strike Assad would emerge stronger. Republicans including House Speaker John Boehner support a strike. Though Simpson is usually a Boehner ally, the Idaho Republican's spokeswoman said he's “strongly leaning against supporting military action.”

Read a report here from S-R reporter Kip Hill, including comments from Idaho and Washington senators; click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.


Idaho lawmakers wary of strike against Syria
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho lawmakers in Washington, D.C., were skeptical about President Barack Obama's plan for a limited military strike against Syria's chemical weapons infrastructure.

This week, Republican U.S. Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo, along with Reps. Mike Simpson and Raul Labrador, all told The Associated Press they're wary a strike would really enhance U.S. power abroad, bring a swifter end to Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime or enhance Middle East stability.

Risch went the furthest Tuesday, saying he'll vote against Obama's resolution. Obama says Assad's government is responsible for numerous gas attacks, including one Aug. 21 that the United States says killed 1,429 people. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which collects information from a network of anti-government activists in Syria, says it has been compiling a list of the names of the dead; its toll has reached 502.

In Tuesday's Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Risch told Secretary of State John Kerry he's worried Assad could emerge a bolder, more-dangerous figure following strikes that aren't aimed at toppling his regime.

“If we go in with a limited strike, and the day after, the week after, or the month after, Assad crawls out of his rat hole and says, 'Look, I stood up to the strongest power on the face of this earth - and I won,'” said Risch.

Interviewed following Tuesday's hearing, Risch said classified intelligence he's seen has convinced him the Assad government is “unquestionably” behind chemical weapons attacks.

However, he's dubious that Obama's proposed response — not all-out war, rather surgical strikes aimed at crippling Assad's chemical weapons capacity — and its aftermath have been sufficiently calculated. He added he met months ago with some members of Syria's fragmented opposition, and so far isn't confident a moderate faction would emerge to take the reins, even should Assad be deposed.

Risch also said nothing he's heard so far adequately addresses his questions about the reaction of Syrian allies including Russia and the militant group Hezbollah, with its rockets in Lebanon pointed at Tel Aviv, following a U.S. strike

“They are poised, on the northern border of Israel, with a lot of rockets they've brought in. What happens when they get into it with Israel? There's no answer to that,” Risch told AP.

This week, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned the West against taking one-sided action in Syria but also said Russia “doesn't exclude” supporting a U.N. resolution on punitive military strikes if it's proved Damascus used poison gas on its people.

Key Republicans including U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio support Obama's resolution, which was still being drafted Tuesday evening. It must first clear the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as well as a Senate floor vote, before heading to the House.

There, Simpson is ordinarily one of Boehner's staunchest allies.

In the Syrian debate, however, an aide to the eight-term Idaho Republican said the speaker can't count on old allegiances.

“He's strongly leaning against supporting military action,” said Nikki Watts, Simpson's spokeswoman in Boise, on Tuesday. “However, he's waiting to pass final judgment until he returns to Washington, D.C. next week, where he'll attend intelligence briefings and listen to floor debates.”

Meanwhile, Labrador has praised Obama's move to allow Congress to weigh in on the matter.

Still, the second-term Republican has left little doubt where he stands: Idaho citizens are weary of war after a decade of costly military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, and so is he.

“If the vote were held today, he would vote 'No,'” said Todd Winer, Labrador's spokesman in Washington, D.C. “But he's listening to all available information.”

Crapo acknowledged the deaths of more than 100,000 people during the Syrian civil war and displacement of 2 million refugees, but said his support for a resolution would be contingent on Obama and Kerry convincing him U.S. involvement would actually protect American's national security interests.

“A high bar must be set when considering the engagement of armed forces personnel,” Crapo said in a statement. “The president has the responsibility of explaining fully to the American people how intervening in Syria is a part of our strategic interests in the Middle East.”


Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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