Former Congressman Lee Hamilton says he hopes U.S. lawmakers act responsibly and give President Obama authorization to launch military strikes against Syria.
The president’s request to strike Syria has divided Democrats with many—such as Congressman John Yarmuth of Kentucky—saying they are unconvinced by the administration’s argument thus far.
Considered a foreign policy expert, Hamilton is a Democrat who represented Indiana’s Ninth Congressional District for 35 years. He is scheduled to speak about the wide-ranging foreign policy challenges facing the U.S. at a speech Thursday evening at Bellarmine University set for 7 p.m.
In an interview with WFPL News, Hamilton says Congress has been too deferential to U.S. presidents on foreign affairs in the past, but he would back the president’s efforts in Syria.
“I would vote for the resolution. You have three options: first of all, do nothing. I think that’s not acceptable. That would mean in effect that (Balshar) al-Assad can with impunity attack his own people with chemical weapons,” he says.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi also supports Obama’s plan to take action, and has been encouraging caucus member to vote in favor of the effort.
Those who support the president on the Democratic side emphasize the humanitarian need for intervention, pointing out approximately 1,500 civilians were gassed by the Syrian government. But many rank-and-file Democrats elected by anti-war voters are skeptical, and some liberals are taking a stand against the Obama administration’s call to strike.
One of an estimated 50-plus left-leaning Democratic House members expected to vote against Obama’s plan to strike Syria, (U.S. Rep. Rick) Nolan is dead set against the use of force, arguing that the role of the U.S. is “not the policeman of the world.”
“I’ve had the good fortune to vote to end several wars that we ought not to have gotten into,” says Nolan, who declined to run for re-election in 1980 but was sent back to the House last fall after a 32-year hiatus. “I’d like to be on the front end of stopping one before it got started.”
Nolan says he can’t get into the specifics of the contretemps with Kerry because it occurred during a classified meeting. He summed it up this way: “He obviously hasn’t read the same documents that I have — but he has invited me to meet with him in his office to go over the ones he has.” The meeting is being planned.
Hamilton acknowledges the second option of putting U.S. troops in Syria to overthrow Assad is a non-starter for lawmakers and most Americans, but he argues limited and decisive strikes are called for to demonstrate the use of chemical weapons is a breach of international law.
“The first purpose is to convey the view that chemical weapons cannot be used with impunity. And if they are used the person using them will be punished,” says Hamilton. “The second purpose is to let the world know that when the U.S. takes a position we’re going to be taken seriously, and that’s the credibility issue which is an important part of American foreign policy and American leadership in the world.”
Hamilton is currently director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University, a non-partisan educational institution seeking to improve the public’s understanding of Congress.
The speech at Bellarmine is set to be held in Frazier Hall, and is free and open to the public.