This week marked the 12th anniversary of 9/11. The reciting of names at Ground Zero, moments of silence at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, and stories of “where we were” have become annual rituals of remembrance. The passage of 12 years has done little to dim the memory of that clear September day.
Our country has endured a great deal since then. The war in Iraq is over, but the war in Afghanistan continues. We’ve had military strikes in Libya. We witnessed the murder of our U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi, whose memory we also honored on 9/11.
Now, lawmakers and the American people have engaged in a public debate about possible military action in Syria.
Nebraskans are no strangers to wars in the Middle East. Our friends, family members, and neighbors have fought there. I have visited the region twice during my time in the U.S. Senate and spoken with Nebraska’s many brave servicemen and women overseas.
We recognize that we have interests at stake in the region, but we have also learned the mistakes of the past. We know that no military action comes without a price, and once military action begins, it’s very hard to determine the outcome.
Since the president initially announced his intention to seek congressional approval for a military strike, I have participated in a number of classified briefings with General Dempsey, Secretary of State Kerry, and Secretary of Defense Hagel.
Earlier this week, I joined five of my colleagues for a working dinner with Vice President Biden at his residence, where the president also met with us to discuss his plans directly.
As I’ve stated before, I agree with Sec. Kerry that the use of chemical weapons against anyone, but especially civilians and children, is a “moral obscenity.”
At the same time, I believe that military action must be reserved for situations where there is a clear national security interest. Any military action must be one component of a comprehensive foreign policy strategy that furthers our long-term interests.
The message presented by the administration has swerved erratically from talk of “red lines” and false starts to “shots across the bow” and calls for an “unbelievably small” war.
While the president made an impassioned case for a humanitarian response to the tragedy, his case regarding a significant U.S. national security interest remains weak.
I am no isolationist. I firmly believe a post-9/11 world requires dependable American leadership. However, I do not believe engagement necessarily means military intervention at every turn.
I remain skeptical that a limited strike will achieve the president’s goal of degrading Assad’s chemical weapons capabilities, especially after weeks of telegraphing our military plans. I also question the existence of any long-term strategy.
A vote authorizing military force has been delayed, but it’s important for Nebraskans to know where I stand: I cannot support any military action in Syria at this time.
Despite being told repeatedly that all diplomatic options had been “completely exhausted,” there could be a diplomatic solution after all. According to reports, conversations between Presidents Putin and Obama to remove Syria’s chemical weapons began well over a year ago and continued as recently as last week. The possibility of removing chemical weapons from Syria is one that we should pursue, but tough diplomacy will be required. I expect the president to follow through and not let the issue fade.
Thank you for taking part in our democratic process, and I’ll visit with you again next week.