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Wyoming lawmakers oppose military strike against Syria


President Obama's call to postpone a vote on a military strike in Syria is being lauded by Wyoming lawmakers. Matt Laslo reports from Washington that while the administration is leaving a military option on the table as it pursues diplomacy, officials can’t expect much support from the Wyoming delegation.

MATT LASLO: Only a handful of lawmakers in the U.S. Senate have gone on record over authorizing military force in Syria. One of them is Wyoming Republican John Barrasso.

JOHN BARRASSO: “Mr. Barrasso?” “No.”

LASLO: Before he cast that voted opposing a military strike, Barrasso questioned the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey about the possible fallout of U-S action. 

BARRASSO:  “If we do a limited strike, as proposed, and still Assad goes back and uses chemical weapons on his people then that engenders an entire new set of hearings. How does this end? Where are we a month from now?”

MARTIN DEMPSEY: We are preparing several target sets, the first of which would set the conditions for a follow on assessments if necessary and we haven’t gotten to that point yet. What we do know is we can degrade and disrupt his capabilities.”

LASLO: As with many Republicans, those answers failed to convince Barrasso. That’s partly because of what he’s hearing from people across WYOMING..

BARRASSO: “All believe what is happening in Syria is awful, despicable. [They] do have concerns about the administration and what the plan really is, what a strategy really is. They want to know what the core national security interests of the United States are that are at stake in Syria. What is our ultimate goal of proposed military strikes and what happens if the strikes are not affective.”

LASLO: Wyoming’s senior Republican Senator, Mike Enzi, wasn’t available for an interview, but he issued a statement opposing the administration’s call for a military strike. It reads in part that “President Obama painted himself in a corner with his “red line” comments and now he is trying to transfer ownership to Congress.”  Enzi’s Republican primary challenger, Liz Cheney also opposes a military strike. At a town hall meeting she accused the president of having “an amateurish approach to national security and foreign policy,” according to the Jackson Hole News and Guide.

LASLO: Back here in Washington the president isn’t finding any allies in the Wyoming congressional delegation.

CYNTHIA LUMMIS: “I oppose U.S. involvement in the Syria civil war.”  

LASLO: That’s Republican Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis. She says some conflicts in the Middle East don’t need U-S involvement.

LUMMIS: “Having the U.S. interject itself into an Arab on Arab civil war I believe could only bring a situation to Syria where Arabs are killed and the U.S. is blamed. So the Arab world needs to sort these out in the Arab world.”

LASLO: But the president and his allies in Congress argue the United States can’t stand by as a dictator gases his own people, in part because it could embolden other nations. Here’s New York Congressman Steve Israel who heads the campaign arm of House Democrats.

STEVE ISRAEL: “And should our response be to Bashar al-Assad and Iran and North Korea – no worries. Our response should be: you should worry. You should worry that when you contemplate the use of chemical weapons or use chemical weapons that there will be an international response.”

LASLO: While Senator Barrasso opposed military authorization in the Foreign Relations Committee, Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine supported it. As the bell rings at the Capitol, alerting lawmakers of a vote, Kaine explains why he believes his committee vote helped spur international negotiations. 

TIM KAINE: “This is important and look – I think the president’s leadership on this is already having an effect. I don’t think the Russian – we’ve got to get more details about this Russian proposal. There is no way that would have happened if the president hadn’t brought us back to discuss this matter. It’s already having an affect so let’s let it play out.”

LASLO: Lummis concedes that Kaine may have a point, but that’s not changing her belief that the president took some missteps.

LUMMIS:  “They might be right. But I wish the president had been more assertive, more clear. I felt that he waffled. I felt that not coming to the American people initially and making the case...was a mistake.”

LASLO: Both sides of the debate over military action are hoping Secretary of State John Kerry can use diplomacy with Russian officials to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control. Lummis says it could be a breakthrough.

LUMMIS:  “I’m actually very pleased now that we’re going to pursue some diplomatic channels through which we might be able to acquire the chemical weapons that Syria has – ‘we’ meaning countries other than Syria.”

LASLO: For now many lawmakers on Capitol Hill are breathing a sigh of relief as the spotlight has been taken off them and turned onto the UN Security Council, but the president may come knocking on lawmaker’s doors again in the near future. If he does, he shouldn’t expect much help from the Wyoming delegation.

For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Matt Laslo in Washington.

Based on Capitol Hill, Matt Laslo is a reporter who has been covering campaigns and every aspect of federal policy since 2006. While he has filed stories for NPR and more than 40 of its affiliates, he has also written for Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, Campaigns and Elections Magazine, The Daily Beast, The Chattanooga Times Free Press, The Guardian, The Omaha World-Herald, VICE News and Washingtonian Magazine.
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