Reacting to reports of a large-scale chemical weapons attack in Syria, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, said “we must not send American forces to fight an undefined enemy capable of such unspeakable atrocities.”
Collins said he believes violence in the Middle East country stems from “multiple elements.”
“What is happening to the people of Syria is wrong and beyond the bounds of any warfare,” he said. “The violence in Syria today is a result of multiple elements, including al-Qaida, Hezbollah and untold other forces.”
President Barack Obama “needs to carefully and firmly articulate our policy for the region, as he should have done long before now,” said the freshman representative, who spent part of 2008-09 in Iraq as a chaplain with a U.S. Air Force Reserve unit.
“Sending troops and other resources at a time when we haven’t been able to effect change so far will only make this grim situation much more serious.”
The crisis in Syria heated up in Washington on Monday as Secretary of State John Kerry declared there was “undeniable” evidence of last week’s attack in the Damascus suburbs that activists say killed hundreds of people.
“The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity,” he said. “By any standard, it is inexcusable and — despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured — it is undeniable.
“This international norm cannot be violated without consequences.”
Officials said Obama has not decided how to respond to the use of deadly gases, a move the White House said last year would cross a “red line.” But the U.S., along with allies in Europe, appeared to be laying the groundwork for the most aggressive response since Syria’s civil war began more than two years ago.
The international community appeared to be considering a response that would punish Assad for deploying deadly gases, not sweeping actions aimed at ousting Assad or strengthening rebel forces.
The Obama administration was weighing options even as a United Nations team, already on the ground in Syria, collected evidence from last week’s attack. The U.S. said Syria’s delay in giving the inspectors access rendered their investigation meaningless and officials said the administration had its own intelligence confirming chemical weapons use.
“What is before us today is real and it is compelling,” Kerry said. “Our understanding of what has already happened in Syria is grounded in facts.”
The U.S. assessment is based in part on the number of reported victims, the symptoms of those injured or killed and witness accounts. Administration officials said the U.S. had additional intelligence confirming chemical weapons use and planned to make it public in the coming days.
Syrian President Bashar Assad has denied launching a chemical attack. The U.N. team came under sniper fire Monday as it traveled to the site of the Wednesday attack.
Timothy May, head of the Department of History, Anthropology and Philosophy at University of North Georgia’s Dahlonega campus, said of the crisis, “This is essentially a civil war in a sovereign territory and normally those are things that we have, at least officially, tried to stay out of.”
Referring to the White House’s “red line” comment, he added, “If we don’t get involved ... what does that say about these kinds of statements?”
“And it was pretty clear they were using chemical weapons before,” May said. “To be honest, I don’t find this (latest incident) surprising at all. If you’re Assad, your goal is to keep your government and state together by any means possible. So, if he has (chemical weapons) in his arsenal, he’s probably gong to use (them).”
It’s unclear whether Obama would seek authority from the U.N. or Congress before using force. The president has spoken frequently about his preference for taking military action only with international backing, but it is likely Russia and China would block U.S. efforts to authorize action through the U.N. Security Council.
Kerry made several veiled warnings to Russia, which has propped up Assad’s regime, blocked action against Syria at the U.N. and disputed evidence of the government’s chemical weapons use.
“Anyone who can claim that an attack of this staggering scale can be contrived or fabricated needs to check their conscience and their own moral compass,” Kerry said.