Obama’s speech gets mixed reactions

McCollum supports president’s Syria efforts; Kind undecided; Bachmann harsh

St. Croix Valley members of Congress offered mixed reactions to President Obama’s pledge Tuesday to explore a diplomatic plan from Russia to take away Syria’s chemical weapons and the president’s urging Americans to support his threat to use military force if needed.

Facing resistance in polls and Congress to the use of force against Syria, Obama said a Russian offer to pressure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to place his government’s weapons under international control raised the chances of putting off the limited military strike Obama is considering.

“Over the last few days, we’ve seen some encouraging signs,” Obama said in 16-minute televised speech Tuesday evening from the White House that attempted to offer a clear case for why it is in Americans’ interests to intervene in Syria’s civil war.
Obama gave perhaps the most coherent expression of his Syria policy to date following weeks of muddled messages by his administration as opposition to a U.S. military strike mounted.

“If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons,” said Obama. “As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas and using them.”

Obama asked leaders in Congress to put off a vote on his request to authorize the use of military force to let diplomacy play out. The Russian plan gives Obama some breathing room since it has been far from certain whether the president would win a vote in Congress on attacking Syria in response to a chemical weapons attack last month that Washington has blamed on Assad’s forces.

Fourth District Rep. Betty McCollum, D-St. Paul, said Obama has her “full support” for his efforts to rally Congress, Americans and the international community to hold Syria accountable for the chemical weapons attack.

“The stakes in this crisis are critical to our national security interests,” she said. “If the murder of civilians with chemical weapons is allowed to become the new international norm, the American People will never be safe from their use by rogue regimes or terrorists,”

But Democratic Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin said he remains undecided about the use of military force against Syria.

“The president had a tough case to make, to a war-weary nation, of why it is in our national security interest that Bashar al-Assad not use chemical weapons against his own people or anyone else.”

Kind said he asked administration officials for more information about what the “day after” would look like if the U.S. launched limited military action against selected targets in Syria.

McCollum and Kind both said they support the Obama Administration’s pursuit of a diplomatic solution to the Syria situation due mainly to the threat of U.S. military action.
“I fully support the administration’s effort to engage Russia and wotk towards disarming the Assad regime peacefully, with international verification,” McCollum said.

“Now that Russia has suggested a plan to have Syria surrender its chemical weapons to international control for destruction, it is time to shift the onus to Russia and China to get Syria to see the wisdom of taking this action,” Kind said. “I believe, however, that the credible use of force is the only reason that Russia and Syria have now come to the negotiating table.”

Sixth District Rep. Michele Bachmann, however, was harshly critical of Obama speech, calling the administration’s handling of the situation in Syria “stunningly incompetent and incoherent.”

“From the outset, the Obama Administration has failed to articulate an identifiable American national security interest or clear strategy for succcess, which is why I am adamantly opposed to the use of military force in Syria,” she said.

Bachmann added that she would not support the use of military force against Syria, citing calls and emails to her office from constituents opposing U.S. involvement in Syria.

“I agree with my constituents and the American people, and if a vote comes to the House floor, I will oppose the authorization of military force,” she said.

Contact Erik Sandin at erik.sandin@ecm-inc.com

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