As a soldier in the Hawaii National Guard who did two tours of duty in the Middle East, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard says she learned firsthand that military action must have a clear objective, the public’s support and an exit plan.
On Monday Ms. Gabbard said Syria offers none of those — and she would vote against the president’s request to authorize military strikes on the Assad regime’s chemical weapons facilities.
“We should learn from history; we cannot afford to be the world’s policeman,” Ms. Gabbard said in a statement announcing her position. “The United States should not insert itself in the midst of this civil war, which is rooted in sectarian hatred and animosity between various warring religious groups.”
Ms. Gabbard is one of two female combat veterans in the House and a member of Mr. Obama’s party, but her stance puts her in line with most of the more than 100 veterans who serve in Congress.
Indeed, of the 103 senators and representatives with military service, 65 have said they will vote no or are leaning against strikes, according to a Washington Times survey of news reports and statements. Only 12 have come out in support of retaliatory attacks.
Those who have announced their opposition span generations, including those who served in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Rep. Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat from Illinois, echoed the views of fellow Iraq veteran Ms. Gabbard that there is not a viable plan for success in Syria. Ms. Duckworth is an Illinois Army National Guard veteran who lost both legs when her helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq in 2004. She received a Purple Heart.
“It’s my responsibility as a member of Congress to make sure we don’t commit resources, the most precious of which are our men and women in uniform, with no comprehensive plan for our involvement,” she said in a statement. “It’s military families like mine that are the first to bleed when our nation makes this kind of commitment.”
Rep. Kerry L. Bentivolio, a Republican from Michigan, has experience on the ground as an Army infantry rifleman in both Vietnam and Iraq — something that influenced him to announce last week that he will vote against military action in Syria.
“All veterans understand how a mission plan works. In every operation you need a plan, a mission objective, defined objectives, and a clearly stated course of action. That’s what every soldier needs before he goes into battle. The administration hasn’t been clear in their definition of these things,” Mr. Bentivolio said, adding that the Obama administration also hasn’t made the case for how the Syrian civil war affects U.S. security.
Rep. Michael G. Grimm, who served in the Marine Corps during the Persian Gulf War, initially supported the president’s push for limited strikes on Syria, saying he wanted to “stand by the commander in chief and support immediate, targeted strikes.” However, after time passed with no action, the New York Republican revoked his support.
“Now that the Assad regime has seen our playbook and has been given enough time to prepare and safeguard potential targets, I do not feel that we have enough to gain as a nation by moving forward with this attack on our own,” Mr. Grimm said.
Sen. Daniel Coats, a Democrat from Indiana who served in the Army, said in a Senate floor speech Monday that he will wait to hear the president’s speech Tuesday before announcing how he will vote. He’s one of 26 veterans in Congress who remain undecided.
Rep. William L. Enyart, a Democrat from Illinois and the only former general officer in Congress, also has not yet made a decision on how he will vote, according to his chief of staff. The retired Air Force two-star general is “evaluating all available information and performing his due diligence amid an incredibly complex issue,” his chief of staff Kevin Kern said.
Bucking the trend, 13 veterans in Congress do support the president’s call for military action.
Rep. Tom Cotton, who served as an infantry officer in the Army and deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, has tried to rally support, saying Mr. Obama has been slow to act but Congress needs to back him anyway.
“I have grown weary of the president’s war weariness,” the Arkansas Republican said during last week’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. “I have called for months for action in Syria. I feel that action should have been taken years ago.”