US Senate Seeks Alternatives to Military Action in Syria

President Barack Obama arrives on Capitol Hill to meet with Senate Democrats and Republicans on Syria, Sept. 10, 2013.
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President Barack Obama arrives on Capitol Hill to meet with Senate Democrats and Republicans on Syria, Sept. 10, 2013.

By Michael Bowman – One day after delaying a U.S. Senate vote on authorizing the use of force in Syria, Majority Leader Harry Reid says the threat of military action must be sustained even as international diplomatic efforts go forward.

A Russian-Syrian proposal to hand over Damascus’ chemical weapons stockpiles has given pause to many U.S. lawmakers already under pressure from constituents to oppose military intervention.

Securing congressional authorization for the use of force against Syria was widely regarded as an uphill battle even before a possible diplomatic avenue to avert the crisis materialized.


Majority Leader Reid said the United States should allow non-military options to play out, but added, “It is very important to understand that the only reason Russia is seeking an alternative to military action is that President Obama has made it plain and clear that the United States will act if we must. Our credible threat of force has made these diplomatic discussions with Syria possible.”

However, one week after a Senate panel approved a resolution authorizing the use of force, a growing number of senators from both parties has announced their opposition to military strikes. Tuesday, the chamber’s Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, added his name to that list.

“In Syria, a limited strike would not resolve the civil war there,” he said. “Nor will it remove [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad from power. There appears to be no broader strategy to train, advise and assist a vetted opposition group on a meaningful scale.”

A small group of Democratic and Republican senators has drafted an alternative resolution that does not rule out military action, but gives Syria 45 days to hand over chemical weapons, during which time the United States would seek a broader international coalition to confront the threat posed by Damascus.

“I am very aware that people are war-weary, that that are concerned about the consequences of the use of military force,” said New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, the latest senator to reject immediate military strikes. “Consequently, I think we should pursue every possible diplomatic solution prior to engaging in military action. I hope that Russia is being serious, and they will take real, legitimate actions to quickly follow through on what they have raised with their effort to encourage Assad to give up his chemical weapons to international control.”

Opposition to the use of force against Syria is even stronger in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Obama aims to build support for congressional authorization for military strikes with an address to the nation later in the day.