A Syrian soldier, who has defected to join the Free Syrian Army, holds up his rifle and waves a Syrian independence flag in the Damascus suburb of Saqba, January 27, 2012. (REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah)
Congressman Peter Welch does not want the United States to “Americanize” the civil war in Syria.
To that end, Welch says, Congress must renew its commitment to the Constitution, which gives the legislative branch of the federal government not just the power to declare war but the authority to check and balance military interventions and alliances that might lead to war.
“Congress must accept its responsibility, not abdicate it,” says the Vermont Democrat, who is a key player on the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs.
To that end, Welch has this week taken a leadership role—along with New York Republican Chris Murphy—in a bipartisan push for Congress to restrict direct military aid to Syrian rebels.
Welch is not naïve, nor is he neglectful of realities on the ground in the Middle East. He traveled to the region last month as part of a congressional oversight mission, visiting an enormous refugee camp along the long the Turkish-Syrian border where he says he witnessed “enormous heartache and suffering in a humanitarian disaster on a vast scale.”
Yet, while the Democrat is quick to condemn the brutality of the Syrian government and its military, he notes that divisions between the various opposition factions means “there is no good choice when it comes to US interventions in the region.” And that includes the Obama administration’s decision to provide military aid to rebel forces.
“There’s an enormous risk that we ‘Americanize’ what is a civil war,” the congressman has argued. “So anyone, politicians foremost among them, who likes to suggest as an armchair general that there’s easy and definitive way to provide a military solution to this festering civil war I think is mistaken.”
On Thursday, Welch and Gibson, with the support of a bipartisan coalition of their colleagues, announced plans to introduce a House version of a Senate measure—sponsored by Democrats Tom Udall of New Mexico and Chris Murphy of Connecticut, as well as Republicans Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah—that would block any military aid to Syrian rebel groups and US support of military operations in Syria until authorized by a joint resolution of Congress. While the bill does allow for non-lethal humanitarian assistance for the Syrian people, it would require the administration to report to Congress every ninety days detailing precisely what assistance is being provided to specific groups, organizations, movements and individuals in Syria.