Vitter opposes Syrian intervention

U.S. Sen. David Vitter said Thursday that he will oppose American military intervention in the ongoing Syrian civil war.

Vitter, R-La., joins U.S. Rep. John Fleming, R-Minden, as the only other member of the Louisiana congressional delegation to outright oppose military airstrikes in Syria.

Others like U.S. Reps. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, and Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, have said they are leaning toward voting against military action. The rest of the delegation is undecided.

President Barack Obama is pushing for limited military strikes without putting soldiers in the country, arguing that Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, went too far with the use of chemical weapons against civilians. Obama is asking for congressional approval.

The U.S. House and Senate could vote as early as next week. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a resolution supporting limited military action on Wednesday.

“As horrible as events in Syria are, they do not pose a direct threat to the United States or our allies,” Vitter said in his announcement. “U.S. military action could spark a broader war and/or entangle us in Syria’s protracted civil war in which elements of the opposition are even worse than the Assad regime, all while our troops are underfunded.

“There is a very serious and direct threat to us in the region — Iran’s development of nuclear weapons,” Vitter continued. “I am extremely concerned that getting involved in Syria, after Iraq and Afghanistan, would make mustering our resolve to stop a nuclear Iran impossible.”

Vitter on Wednesday participated in confidential briefings as a member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee.

As a congressman from Jefferson Parish in October 2002, Vitter voted for the resolution to authorize military force against Iraq.

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, the only other member of the Louisiana delegation from 11 years ago who is still in office, also backed the vote sought by President George W. Bush. On the Syria vote, Landrieu said Wednesday that she would “carefully examine the facts” before determining her action.

Aaron David Miller, a Middle East scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a Washington policy group, said while it’s easy for foreign-policy experts in Washington to reach a consensus on Syria, it’s harder for members of Congress to sell it to constituents still reeling from two long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the worst recession since the Great Depression.

“It’s an inside-the-Beltway argument, and most Americans are having a hard time relating to it,” he said.

An Aug. 29-Sept. 1 poll by Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 48 percent of Americans oppose military intervention in Syria, while only 29 percent support it.

Mark Jacobson, a senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund, a Washington foreign policy organization, said it’s clear that public opinion is running against it. But, he added, public support for military interventions rarely affects elections, even when things go right. Former President George H.W. Bush’s approval ratings soared after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. But he lost re-election in 1992.

“You’re talking about something that transcends electoral politics,” Jacobson said. “There’s no guarantee a vote either way plays better if you’re a Republican or a Democrat.”

The McClatchy Washington Bureau contributed to this report.