Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013 | 1:35 p.m.
Nevada Senators Harry Reid and Dean Heller both got a chance to confer with President Barack Obama over Syria today, as Obama visited Capitol Hill to discuss the swiftly changing scenario with Democrats and Republicans and ask for their moral support.
“What he wants us to do basically, is give him room,” Heller said after the Republicans’ meeting. “Give him room and see if this diplomacy with Russia works…that’s all he asked. There was no response.”
Lawmakers, who just 24 hours ago were planning to vote on a resolution to authorize limited military strikes against Syria over its recent use of chemical weapons, are now just watching and waiting as the Obama administration evaluates whether a recent deal, brokered by Russia, to turn Syria’s chemical weapons over to international authorities will satisfy the United States.
In the meantime, senators on both sides of the aisle have had to put their personal convictions – and their doubts – in check.
“The head of Russia is also the former head of the KGB; it’s kinda hard to really have a lot of confidence and trust in what whatever their decisions are,” said Heller, who announced earlier Tuesday that he would vote against authorizing limited strikes. “But I would much rather follow some diplomatic solution to this than shoot warning shots.”
“It’s important to remember that Syria has an extremely low level of credibility…speaking only for me, Assad is a demon, a tyrant, and the sooner he goes, the better,” said Reid, who has been fervently in favor of the limited strikes. “If something can be done diplomatically, I’m totally satisfied. I’m not a blood and thunder guy. I’m not for shock and awe.”
The terms Reid chose hearken back to the run-up to the Iraq War, the memory of which isn’t far from anyone’s mind on Capitol Hill as they decide where they stand on the potential of strikes in Syria.
“To convince the Democrats to go into Iraq, we said there would be no boots on the ground – and here we are today,” Heller reminded. “I’m just concerned that anything we do right now is considered an act of war.”
“I just dropped my youngest daughter off at college – since 2nd grade, we’ve been in a war. I go down the parade routes – I was in Elko, Winnemucca, Fallon, and that’s all they’re yelling at me is ‘stay out of Syria, stay out of Syria,’” Heller continued. “This fatigue that we’re seeing in this country has a lot to do with that…. There is no goal, there is no end game as to what we’re trying to achieve here.”
Yet, there is the matter of the chemical weapons – which both sides agree, are heinous.
The United Nations Security Council called an emergency meeting for Tuesday afternoon, to consider the Russian proposal to have Syria give over all its chemical weapons stores to international authorities.
The path forward for that resolution, however, is not clear.
The United States maintains that the only reason a diplomatic option to rid Syria of chemical weapons is on the table is because the threat of a U.S. strike was so real.
“If we’re going to have any success diplomatically in the future on this issue, we have to make sure that credible threat of military action remains,” Reid said. “It’s important to understand that the only reason Russia is seeking alternatives to military action is the president of the United States has made it very clear that we will act if we must.”
But Russia may veto the resolution to implement its own plan if the United States does not withdraw its threats to strike.
France, along with the United Kingdom and the United States – the initial trio of states whose leaders were in favor of strikes – are presenting the resolution in this afternoon’s session.
There is also a new bipartisan resolution circulating around the Senate, which would give Syria 45 days to relinquish all of its weapons to the international authorities – or else the United States would strike.
Heller was skeptical about that resolution, noting that even a delayed strike could still be considered “an act of war.”
Reid has not endorsed the plan, but was emphatic that any alternative solution – emanating from ad hoc groups of senators or the Security Council – be put through the official Senate channels of consideration.
Reid will also wait for Obama's speech to the country later tonight before announcing whether the Senate will vote to authorize any strikes.
“Our schedule is being driven by developments that are taking place, not some artificial timeline,” he told reporters.
And the Republicans will be watching too.
“He realizes and recognizes phone calls aren’t going his way,” Heller said, noting that when Obama spoke with Republicans, he sat arms folded – a defensive position. “It’s going to be a tough speech. He’s going to have to give the best speech he’s ever given in his life, in order to change [minds].”