Despite a personal call from President Obama this weekend, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy said Tuesday that he heads back to Washington skeptical of authorizing American involvement in Syria.
The two-year conflict in Syria may have reached a tipping point last month following reports that President Bashar al-Assad’s government used Sarin gas, a banned chemical weapon, outside Damascus. News reports have estimated the death toll in that attack at around 1,400 with civilians among the victims. Those casualties contribute to 100,000 deaths now attributed to the conflict.
As reports of evidence purporting to verify the use of Sarin gas by government troops have circulated around the world, President Obama and Secretary of the State John Kerry, among others, have been advocating for military intervention of some kind. Over the weekend, Obama announced he would seek Congressional authorization before pursuing a military strike.
Murphy left early Tuesday from an affordable housing forum organized by his office so he could board a plane to Washington to attend a Foreign Relations Committee hearing with Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on the administration’s military intervention plans.
“I return to Washington still a skeptic of military intervention in Syria,” he said. “I’ve been one of the leading voices in the Senate against military strikes, and though I will let the administration make its case after these chemical weapons attacks, I’m going to have to be convinced that this makes sense for the American people.”
Murphy said he spoke with the president during a personal call on Sunday. He said he expressed his skepticism to Obama.
“[I] told him I was going to need to be convinced, but I would let him and his administration make the case,” he said.
The senator said he has doubts that a military strike by the U.S. will make the situation in Syria any better for the people there. He said it may make things worse. Murphy said he also has concerns that American involvement could “spiral out of control” and result in the country being involved in a broader conflict rather than one targeted strike.
“The president told me this weekend that he firmly believes that we can keep this strike limited and that this will not involve a long term U.S. commitment, but I remain doubtful that this does not escalate in the region,” he said.
Murphy said he also heard from constituents over the weekend. He said people in Connecticut are “horrified” by the chemical weapons attacks but wonder whether U.S. involvement will help. He said Connecticut residents are more engaged on the Syrian topic than they have been since the debate over health care reform.
“I heard loud and clear from people across Connecticut this weekend, that this state is pretty weary of war,” he said. “They need to be convinced as well by the president this week that there is a direct national security interest in striking Syria.”
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Murphy said the U.S. has “suffered from an abundance of hubris” when it comes to the impact of its involvement in Middle Eastern affairs. He said that U.S. intervention often either fails to improve the situation or actually makes it worse.
“We need to have a sober conversation in Washington this week about the limits of American power,” Murphy said. “There are some times when there are awful things happening around the world and the United States can’t change that reality.”
Murphy said he considered the resolution initially proposed by the administration a “non-starter.”
“It does not have any of the limitations that the president has talked about publicly such as a restriction against the use of ground forces,” he said, adding that the Foreign Relations Committee is working on another draft of the resolution. “The only way that resolution passes the Senate and certainly the House is if there is much more limitation built into the president’s authority.”
Murphy said he expects that Congress will take a vote on some version of the resolution by early next week.