What One GOP Congressman Would Do About Syria

Republican Rep. Tom McClintock of California lobbied heavily for President Obama to seek congressional approval for military intervention in Syria. McClintock speaks to guest host Wade Goodwyn about the debate ahead.

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We turn now to Republican congressman Tom McClintock, to hear from him about Syria. He represents California's 4th District. Congressman, thanks for joining us this morning.

CONGRESSMAN TOM MCCLINTOCK: It's my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

GOODWYN: Are you pleased that the president has decided to bring this matter to Congress?

MCCLINTOCK: Well, absolutely. I think he prevented a major constitutional crisis as well as a potentially catastrophic escalation in the Middle East, by backing off and deferring to Congress, which the Constitution gives the sole authority to declare war.

GOODWYN: The president has framed the issue as not taking sides in the Syrian war, but as punishment for how to control a dictator who's used weapons of mass destruction against civilians. Is this how you see it?

MCCLINTOCK: No, I think that would be a terrible blunder. Once you've launched a military strike on another nation, you're at war with that nation and its allies regardless of what you want to call it or later do; and wars have a very nasty way of taking turns that nobody can predict or control. I mean, World War I began with a chain of obscure events that rapidly escalated.

The Middle East is a tinderbox and throwing a match into that box can have catastrophic consequences. The most likely target for a Syrian retaliatory strike wouldn't be us. It would probably be Israel through Hezbollah by launching missiles at Tel Aviv, which would require a retaliatory strike by Israel and then who knows? Iran, Russia, you can see how quickly a chain of events like that could quickly escalate.

GOODWYN: The president has been very reluctant to get involved in Syria, but he says that with the use of chemical weapons, of gas, that there's a moral responsibility here. What about that issue of moral responsibility?

MCCLINTOCK: Well look, sometimes there are simply no good moves available and you have to wait until there is one. And sometimes there are conflicts where there are no good actors, and I think this is one of them. The government's aligned with Hezbollah, the rebels with al-Qaida. This is a civil war between bad forces and I think we need to stay out. And as tragic as 1,400 dead civilians is in Damascus, imagine 14,000 dead civilians in Tel Aviv.

GOODWYN: What would it take for you to give the president the green light for a cruise missile strike, or do you believe that's simply a bridge too far for you, that there's no circumstance or argument that would sway you?

MCCLINTOCK: Traditionally this nation has never attacked another nation unless we were ourselves attacked, or an ally was attacked. And unless those conditions are present, I would be very, very skeptical of declaring war against Syria. But as I said, sometimes you don't have a good move and when you're in that kind of situation, the best thing to do is stop and wait.

GOODWYN: The president has presented his resolution, so you've had the opportunity to take a look at it. What do you think?

MCCLINTOCK: Well, as I said, I am deeply skeptical of American military involvement in Syria in any form and I am very skeptical that a war, once it's begun, could be limited.

GOODWYN: Tom McClintock is a Republican congressman representing California's 4th District. Congressman, thank you for joining us.

MCCLINTOCK: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

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