WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, urged House colleagues Wednesday to give President Barack Obama the go-ahead to launch a limited military strike against the Syrian government.
“Miracle of miracles, I am in support of the president’s call for action in Syria,” said Cotton, who is typically opposed to Obama’s policies.
But in this case, the use of chemical weapons by Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s regime combined with inaction from the United States poses a deeply troubling threat to the world, Cotton said during a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“The day that the U.S. does not act is not just the day that Bashar al-Assad knows it is open season for chemical weapons but … more ominously is the day that Iran’s Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Khamenei spins his centrifuges into overdrive,” Cotton said.
Cotton suggested that Iran would be empowered to speed its efforts to develop a nuclear arsenal that could reach U.S. soil.
Cotton, a House freshman, was among about 36 members of the House Foreign Relations Committee who attended the hearing on Syria where Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey made the administration’s case for a limited strike.
The hearing lasted about four hours with each member given a limited amount of time to question the witnesses and express their thoughts on granting Obama’s request. Kerry answered the bulk of the questions asked, making the point repeatedly that the request was limited and would not include “boots on the ground.”
Kerry also made the case that the goal was not to involve the U.S. in Syria’s civil war but to punish Assad for breaking a decades-old international taboo against using chemical weapons.
He also suggested that a failure to act would embolden Assad and other regimes around the world. Assad would continue to use chemical weapons against his countrymen, Kerry guaranteed.
Even as Cotton supported Obama’s request, he criticized the president for failing to act sooner.
“I have grown weary of the president’s war weariness,” Cotton said. “I have called for months for action in Syria. I feel action should have been taken years ago.”
Cotton also called for stronger measures to be taken to remove Assad from power and replace his regime with a moderate, pro-western government.
The committee appeared to be divided over what course of action should be taken in Syria. Several members expressed concerns that a limited strike would not deter Assad from using chemical weapons again. Some worried that Assad would retaliate and that eventually the U.S. would be dragged into the civil war. Others wondered why international support for action is not greater.
As the hearing took place, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a resolution, 10-7, supporting a limited military action against Syria.
The Senate and House could take up the resolution next week. Aside from Cotton, the Arkansas delegation appears to be leaning against granting the Obama administration’s request.