Manchin repeats opposition to Syrian involvement
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Citing no imminent threat to America, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., on Monday reiterated his opposition to White House proposals to get involved in Syria in the immediate future.
"Being a superpower means more than just using super military might. It means super diplomacy, super humanitarian aid and super restraint," Manchin said during a Monday morning telephone press conference.
"After over a decade of war, trillions of dollars spent and over 7,000 American lives lost in the Middle East, I don't believe we have changed the direction in the region. I don't believe we are going to change it," Manchin said.
"Is there an imminent threat to our country and our people?" he asked. "I have found that to be absolutely not the case. We need to give diplomacy the chance to work."
Also Monday, Manchin introduced a joint resolution with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., called the Chemical Weapons Control and Accountability Resolution of 2013.
That resolution would allow "all elements of national power" to be used against Syria if the Assad government does not agree, within 45 days, to abide by the prohibition against the use of chemical weapons passed by the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993 in Paris.
Secretary of State John Kerry has warned the Bashar Assad government to give up all its chemical weapons within a week or face a possible military attack.
On Aug. 24, the White House said it had "very little doubt" that Assad's government had attacked its own citizens with chemical weapons. Three days earlier, the chemical weapon sarin was used to kill 1,429 people, including 426 children, near Damascus, according to U.S. intelligence reports.
The Manchin-Heitkamp resolution also urges the federal government "to address the ongoing humanitarian challenges presented by two million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries," as well as "4.5 million internally displaced persons in Syria."
A similar resolution will be introduced in the House of Representatives.
The Manchin-Heitkamp resolution also urges the United States government to make "efforts to isolate extremist and terrorist groups in Syria to prevent their influence on the future transitional and permanent Syrian governments."
Manchin said, "After two years of civil war in Syria, more than 100,000 lives have been lost."
Manchin said he attended several congressional hearings and White House briefings, both open and "classified," about White House plans to attack Syria, including meetings of the Senate Armed Service Committee, of which he is a member, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"I have also spoken with former military and administration officials and with diplomats and foreign policy experts," he said.
"I do not believe a military strike is the right course of action at this time."
Manchin hopes discussions with the Assad regime and other parties over the next 45 days will convince Syrian leaders to make sure their chemical weapons are secure and then to eliminate them.
"Even Russia is encouraging the Assad regime" to give up its chemical weapons, Manchin said.
"During that 45-day period, the president and the administration will have to look at a long-term solution in Syria and encourage additional diplomacy. ... I hope the White House will see this as a viable option."
Manchin also expressed concerns about a branch of al-Qaeda "participating with the rebels to oust the Assad regime. ... If they are successful in defeating Assad's regime, I believe al-Qaeda will have influence in the new regime.
"There is no doubt in my mind that the [chemical weapons] attack occurred and the weapons were produced under the Assad regime and that some part of the Assad regime was involved," Manchin said. "But there is no clear evidence that Assad gave the order [to use chemical weapons] himself."
By Friday, Manchin said, he had received or held more than 4,000 messages and conversations. "Less than 50 of them had any type of support for this type of attack."
A military attack on Syria, Manchin warned, "could cause more collateral damage and kill more civilians than what we have ever seen in the past.
"I want to see the civil war come to an end," Manchin said. "But I don't think we can stop the civil war by ourselves. But we have to get a hold of the chemical weapons. If we have a strike, that will not happen."
Manchin asked, "After 12 years of fighting and $2 trillion supporting military efforts [in the Middle East], what makes you believe we could continue that formula and have a different outcome?"
Reach Paul J. Nyden at email@example.com or 304-348-5164.