Sen. Tom Udall On Syrian Resolution

On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a resolution authorizing President Obama to take military action against the Syrian regime. It goes to the full Senate over the objections of New Mexico Democrat Tom Udall. Steve Inskeep talks with Sen. Udall about his concerns over intervention in Syria.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Once the Senate Foreign Relations Committee tweaked the resolution, 10 lawmakers voted for it. Seven voted no, including Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, who's on the phone. Senator, welcome to the program.

SEN. TOM UDALL: It's great to be with you this morning.

INSKEEP: Why were you not reassured by the limitations on military force that are written into this resolution?

UDALL: Well, I don't think this is the time for us to get embroiled in the Syrian civil war, in what is looking like a widening conflict between Sunnis and Shias in the region. And I don't think we've exhausted all our other options. You know, a great country like ours should only go to war as a last resort.

INSKEEP: What option is there that's still on the table?

UDALL: Well, there are a lot of diplomatic options. There are economic sanction options. We could rally the world, in terms of going against Russia and China for propping up this despicable regime. I mean, we - those two countries have prevented us from acting internationally as a body.

So there are a lot of things that we could've done, and we haven't exhausted our opportunities. So I think this is a - ill-advised, misguided decision to go to war, at this time.

INSKEEP: Is it necessary for the United States to do something?

UDALL: I think we are doing a lot now. And we could do a lot more on the diplomatic front, on the economic sanctions front, and working with all of our international allies to find a solution here. I would also suggest that we could go to the international court. I mean, this guy is a war criminal in that he should be brought to justice. I don't have any doubt about that. I don't, in any way, support what he has done to his people. But I'm not so sure that this isn't premature.

INSKEEP: You're saying, Senator, indict him. Take him to the International Criminal Court, and if that takes a few years, that would be an acceptable wait for you.

UDALL: Well, I think there are lots of options on the table that we can pursue: diplomatic options we can ramp up, if we get all of our international allies with us; economic sanctions; and going to the international court, I think, is the way where we would send a very strong message that he's a war criminal, and he's going to be brought to justice.

But going to war is very unpredictable. We're getting ourselves into a volatile situation. We could say that we're only going in on a bombing campaign. We don't know what's going to happen. We could see Russia react in a way that we don't expect. Iran could react. And the leader of this country could end up striking out with chemical weapons beyond his borders. So this is a very unpredictable situation; and I think we should stay focused on other things, at this point.

INSKEEP: I wonder if that unpredictability is part of the dilemma here. I know you sponsored, you proposed an amendment to the resolution that would prohibit air and naval forces from being put into Syrian waters and airspace. Everybody else voted it down. Even other people who voted against the final resolution weren't with you on that. And I wonder if that does reflect a reality. If you want to succeed in this situation, it is hard to limit the president's options. He may have to do any number of things.

UDALL: Well, that's part of the problem with this resolution - is, I believe it's too open-ended. It did not include language which would effectively limit the U.S. mission. And I think when people read this carefully, they're going to see that language was put in by Sen. McCain that expanded the scope of the mission beyond deterring the use of chemical weapons. So that worries me a lot, too. Some of this language sounds a lot like regime change. And if you're going in for regime change, that's a much, much longer mission.

INSKEEP: And there is, in fact, language we'll mention, sponsored by Sen. McCain - proposed by Sen. McCain, stating that it's the policy of the United States to change the momentum on the battlefield in the Syrian civil war.

But let me just ask you, Sen. Udall, President Obama has said this was a red line, the use of chemical weapons is a red line; there's 1,400 people dead. Does the United States lose credibility if it fails to act swiftly against this?

UDALL: I don't think so. I think we gain credibility when we work with our international allies, when we build international support, when we focus in on Russia and China and shame them; and say, these two countries are supporting the use of chemical weapons. And we all need to unite and come up with a solution that brings this despicable war criminal to justice, and moves us towards a more peaceful region.

INSKEEP: Senator, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us.

UDALL: No problem, it was great to be with you this morning.

INSKEEP: New Mexico's Tom Udall.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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