WASHINGTON - The five members of the Arkansas congressional delegation who oppose U.S. military action in Syria voiced hope Tuesday that the White House would listen to war-weary Americans and seek a peaceable solution.
“Our allies are not with us on this. The people of Arkansas, the people of America, the overwhelming majority just don’t feel like we should get involved,” said Sen. John Boozman, a Republican from Rogers. “I think the lesson of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, is it’s easy to get involved. It’s harder to get unentangled.”
Boozman and his Senate Republican colleagues met with President Barack Obama during their weekly caucus luncheon on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, but Obama failed to sway them.
“My concern with this whole thing is there’s no clear path forward,” said Boozman, who said he would oppose military action if the vote occurred now. A “very limited strike,” in response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons, may embolden Iran and other unfriendly regimes, he said. A major strike could topple Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, ushering in a regime that may be just as bad, he added.
Obama told Republicans that he would ask congressional leaders to delay a vote on military action. Meanwhile, world leaders at the United Nations and elsewhere sought to defuse the crisis as a Russian plan to sequester Syria’s chemical arms is pursued.
U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, a Little Rock Republican, welcomed news of a possible international solution.
“Any proposal ought to be looked at. I think that one that might potentially accomplish what the president is wanting without going to war should be [examined],” Griffin said. But he questioned whether Russia - Damascus’ longtime ally and arms dealer - could be trusted.
“You can put me down as skeptical when you’re giving Russia the authority and trust to hold Syria accountable,” Griffin said.
Najib Ghadbian, a leader of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces and an Arkansas resident, also doubted the trustworthiness of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“We don’t trust the Syrian regime. We don’t trust the Russians,” Ghadbian told reporters at the National Press Club in Washington.
Tuesday evening on national television, Obama outlined the case for a military strike, but said he was prepared to pursue diplomacy.
After listening to the speech, Griffin said, “[I] remain steadfast in my opposition to military action in Syria.”
After the presidential address, U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, a Little Rock Democrat, issued a statement that reiterated his opposition to a U.S. military strike. “The President has still not established a compelling national security interest, clearly defined a mission that has a definitive end-state, or built a true coalition of allies that would actively participate in any action we take,” he said. “However, it now looks as if the U.S. may lead an international effort to peacefully dispose of Syria’s chemical weapons. I can support this effort if it is verifiable and if we can trust that Syria’s chemical weapons will be destroyed and not fall into the hands of terrorists.”
U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, a Rogers Republican, also wasn’t persuaded.
“As President Obama said, it is ‘beyond our means to right every wrong.’ This is especially true in the absence of a direct or immediate threat to our nation’s security or that of our allies,” Womack said in a written statement. “I remain opposed to a military intervention in Syria and am hopeful for a diplomatic solution.”
A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford said the Jonesboro Republican still opposes the use of force. “The president’s speech didn’t change anything for him,” press secretary Jack Pandol said. “He has said from the beginning that he prefers exploring diplomatic options and finding a solution that averts military involvement.”
A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, the only delegation member who has backed Obama on Syria, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.