As more and more progressive voices speak out against using military force against Syria, President Obama’s decision to ask Congress to authorize a strike is creating political friction on the other side of the country -- in the Senate primary between Brian Schatz and Colleen Hanabusa. Of course, the military has a huge presence in Hawaii, and the islands are home to thousands of servicemen and women. Hawaii-based units suffered some of the most devastating losses during the Iraq war, and the pain and waste of that conflict is still felt among many residents.
Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, came out quickly and decisively against President Obama’s attack plan -- saying that a strike on Syria lacked a “solid legal basis, a clear long-term strategy, and vital international support.” In an August 26th statement, she said:
“The world has a moral obligation to pursue an appropriate response to any use of these inhumane and illegal weapons. There is no place in any conflict for chemical warfare.On the flip-side, her primary opponent, Senator Brian Schatz, originally came out with some pretty hawkish language and seemed to support a unilateral strike:
However, the United States must remain cautious and pragmatic in our response. Faulty intelligence on WMDs drew us into a bloody struggle in Iraq. The last decade of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrated what comes of war waged with poor planning. We cannot haphazardly enter another conflict with a sovereign nation. Questions still remain about the identity and intentions of the Syrian opposition to the Assad regime, and I believe we need clear answers before moving forward.”
""The people of Hawaii and I have confidence in President Obama's decisions as our commander-in-chief."
"The President and his national security team have provided strong evidence that the Assad regime is responsible for the recent horrific chemical weapons attack against innocent Syrian civilians. We must send a clear message that the use of chemical weapons is abhorrent and will not be tolerated by the United States or the international community."
But when President Obama revealed his plan to go to Congress for approval, Schatz tried to backpedal. An article in Wednesday's Honolulu Civil Beat reported:
By Sunday, however, Schatz had released a second, more circumspect statement. Though his aides strongly disputed the notion Tuesday that the senator had changed his position, the second statement was decidedly different in tone from the first. Gone was a call for "sending a message."Hanabusa is not the only member of the Hawaii delegation with reservations about a strike. Her colleague in the House, Tulsi Gabbard (a veteran of Middle East conflicts and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee), is also reluctant to get involved in Syria:
“Congress must weigh in,” he said. “And this decision should spur an important debate, allowing us to review the facts. Most importantly, this assures the country that the gravity of taking military action is weighed fully before decisions are made.”
"Right now, we do not have enough facts about all facets of what is occurring on the ground, the factions involved in this civil war, and what the unintended consequences would be for U.S. military involvement.”Colleen makes great points in articulating the progressive anti-war message. The United States does not need to start another unwinnable war in the Middle East. Any Hawaii politician who votes to attack Syria will likely face a severe electoral backlash from local liberals and progressives -- especially Schatz, who was recently endorsed by MoveOn.org. His rush to side with President Obama may have untold consequences if we end up involved in Syria. We don’t know enough about the situation on the ground, we don’t know who exactly we will be helping, and we can’t say what will happen if our weapons will fall into the wrong hands. Most importantly, there is no guarantee that our strikes will change anything, and will in all probability make things worse. Can we really justify an action that could both kill innocent civilians and help al Qaeda? Considering the Senate Foreign Relations Committee just approved John McCain's amendment calling for a "democratic government in Syria" and authorizing the goal of "removing Assad's momentum on the battlefield," it is almost certain that a few missile strikes will not be the end of our involvement.
British Parliament’s refusal to endorse military action does give us some hope – they are probably just as war-weary as we are, and were similarly suckered into Iraq by the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Blair quartet. I only hope that our elected officials remember the deceit that got us into Iraq and the heartbreak it caused, and realize how bad a “yes” vote would be for the American people and for the world.