Congressional reaction to Syria deal

September 14, 2013

News of an agreement between the United States and Russia on a way to identify and seize chemicals weapons in Syria is being greeted with hopeful and skeptical support by lawmakers in Washington, with several citing President Obama's threat of military force as the catalyst for an agreement.


House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The idea that Obama's threats of military action compelled the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to seek a negotiated settlement was conveyed again in a White House statement Saturday that said that "In part because of the credible threat of U.S. military force, we now have the opportunity to achieve our objectives through diplomacy."

Statements from lawmakers expressing similar sentiments began arriving in reporter's inboxes moments later.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who was the first congressional leader to endorse Obama's call for military action, said that the agreement "was only made possible by a clear and credible threat of the use of force by the United States."

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) went further by suggesting that the United States saved face despite being forced to negotiate with the Russian government.

"Russia and Syria sought two things in any agreement: a promise on our part not to use military force, and an end to international support for the Syrian opposition. This agreement includes neither item," Levin said. “Just as the credible threat of a strike against Syria’s chemical capability made this framework agreement possible, we must maintain that credible threat to ensure that Assad fully complies with the agreement.”

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who voted to authorize military force, called the agreement "a welcome development" and said, “The fact is that it was the credible threat of force that helped push Russia to the negotiating table to strike this deal."

Shaheen is one of five Democrats on the foreign relations panel facing reelection next year who voted for military action despite strong public opposition -- so her statement could be seen as a reminder to constituents upset by her vote that her decision helped make a deal possible.

But strong criticism of the agreement came from a familiar pair of lawmakers, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who had urged Obama to quickly and forcefully use American military power to punish Assad.

“What concerns us most is that our friends and enemies will take the same lessons from this agreement -- they see it as an act of provocative weakness on America's part," the senators said in a joint statement. "We cannot imagine a worse signal to send to Iran as it continues its push for a nuclear weapon."

“What's worse, this agreement does nothing to resolve the real problem in Syria, which is the underlying conflict that has killed 110,000 people, driven millions from their homes, destabilized our friends and allies in the region, emboldened Iran and its terrorist proxies, and become a safe haven for thousands of Al-Qaeda affiliated extremists," they added. "Is the message of this agreement that Assad is now our negotiating partner, and that he can go on slaughtering innocent civilians and destabilizing the Middle East using every tool of warfare, so long as he does not use chemical weapons? That is morally and strategically indefensible."

Follow Ed O'Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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