CT lawmakers favor diplomacy in Syria

Connecticut’s congressional delegation, largely skeptical of President Barack Obama’s planned military strike against Syria, welcomed his proposal to delay a Senate vote on the strike to pursue diplomatic alternatives.

Before Obama announced that he wanted to halt the Senate vote, Connecticut’s two senators and five representatives voiced doubt about the prudence of involving the United States in yet another Middle Eastern conflict. Although their reasons varied, the two senators from Connecticut, Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, indicated that they would have opposed the Senate resolution if it had come up for a vote on Wednesday. But despite the widespread opposition to a Syrian strike among Connecticut’s representatives, all commended the president for pursuing a diplomatic solution, with the backing of the United Nations, to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons.

“When the U.S. strikes unilaterally, it comes at the cost of our international security — we come across as a bully,” Murphy said in an interview with the News. “[But] if we were able to do it in a multi-lateral way, it would advance a long-held international norm against chemical weapons. It would satisfy many people’s concerns.”

In a 16-minute address to the nation Tuesday night, the president made his case for a military strike to reinforce an international norm against the use of chemical weapons in warfare. The Obama administration claims to have concrete evidence that the chemical agent Sarin was used in a Damascus suburb on Aug. 21, including blood samples and video footage of men, women and children convulsing and screaming in the immediate aftermath of the attack.

But, after several weeks of lobbying Congress without a guarantee that either chamber would authorize a strike, Obama said he would be willing to consider a proposal, put forward by Russia, to allow Syria to turn over its stockpile of weapons to the United Nations.

“It’s too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments, but this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force,” Obama said in his speech, adding that he had asked the Senate to hold off on a vote.

Members of the state’s delegation expressed relief that the President is considering a diplomatic solution. Reflecting the sentiments of his colleagues, Representative John Larson told the News that a vast majority of his constituents are opposed to the president’s strike proposal.

“I was not surprised but certainly heartened by what I heard in the district,” Larson said. “About three-quarters of people were opposed to military intervention, but with a lot of caveats — mostly opposed to going alone, most feeling that there should be a global response.”

The possibility of moving forward on a plan that would include a multilateral solution with the support of Russia, an ally of Syria that had previously been blocking attempts by the U.S. to gain United Nations approval for an airstrike, put many constituents’ concerns to rest.

“The newly emerging possibility of bringing Syria to the U.N. with a diplomatic resolution to secure the chemical weapons, if the proposal can be effectively negotiated, is a very important development that should be pursued,” Representative Elizabeth Esty said in a statement immediately preceding the President’s remarks.

Mohamed Elfayoumy, a Yale World Fellow and the Egyptian liaison to the Syrian opposition, agreed that any action on the part of the United States would be viewed with mistrust.

“Most of the people don’t really trust the U.S.’s intentions, and even if they do not talk about the intentions, they will actually think that the U.S. does not really have a proper plan, and that the U.S. does not really know the region,” Elfayoumy said. “Large sectors in the Arab world have an intrinsic skepticism toward any American military action in the region.”

Still, he added that Syria’s chemical weapon stockpile should not be the main focus in the discussion of U.S. intervention.

“It is not morally justifiable [to strike] because the reason why chemical weapons are evil is that they’re weapons of mass distruction,” Elfayoumy said. “But the situation in Syria that we are witnessing is a situation of bigger mass destruction than anybody can imagine. So if you just go and intervene because you are targeting chemical weapons and leave the mass killing continuing, you are not enforcing any kind of norm.”

The U.N. is expected to release its findings regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria within the next week.

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