Senators warn Kerry: Syria can't become another Iraq (+video)
A Senate hearing about potential military strikes against Syria was dominated by discussion about Iraq. Secretary of State John Kerry promised there would be no ground troops.
The first congressional hearing on President Obama’s request to use military force in Syria showcased the deep and bitter legacy of the Iraq war, as one senator after the other demanded that any authorization specifically rule out any recourse to American boots on the ground.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Echoes of Syria's war
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The Tuesday afternoon hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee revealed the varying concerns of different factions in Congress – concerns that range from wanting any US action to assist the Syrian rebels in bringing down President Bashar al-Assad to worrying that even limited military action could aid America’s enemies, including Al Qaeda elements in Syria.
But the echo of Iraq – and the demand that Syria not become another quagmire – dominated more than three hours of discussion.
Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged Iraq's shadow when he said he understood congressional reluctance to authorize the use of force based on intelligence assessments that the Assad regime used chemical weapons against civilians on Aug. 21. He was seated next to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel – who, like him, voted as a senator in 2003 to authorize the invasion of Iraq. "We are especially sensitive, Chuck and I, to never again asking any member of Congress to take a vote on faulty intelligence," Secretary Kerry said.
But Kerry rattled senators when he said that, while the president “has no intention and we do not want to put American troops on the ground to fight this civil war” in Syria, he also did not want “to take off the table an option” for securing Syria’s chemical weapons.
He offered “hypotheticals,” such as the implosion of Syria, resulting in lost command and control of the country’s significant stockpiles of chemical weapons or a situation in which a chemical weapons “cache” falls into the hands of Al Qaeda-affiliated militants.
But the committee’s chairman, Sen. Robert Menendez (D) of New Jersey, said, “I do think we are going to have to work on language that makes it clear” that the use of American troops is not authorized.
It was only after the committee’s top Republican, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, admonished Secretary Kerry for his response to the use-of-troops question that Kerry offered an unequivocal ban on sending US soldiers into Syria.