When it comes to a U.S. military response to the Syrian conflict, U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney says he isn’t gung-ho about what he calls a nonpartisan legal issue that will set a precedent for international relations in the future.
“What American interest is served by getting involved in the civil war with Syria? I don’t see it,” Mulvaney said during an interview Wednesday with The Herald at his Rock Hill office.
Mulvaney, an Indian Land Republican who represents South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District, said he is prepared to vote against President Barack Obama’s draft legislation for military action against Syria as it is written, but he remains undecided on any other plans for limited military action in the region.
Obama has spent the week rallying for support from Democrats and Republicans in Congress before the legislative session resumes next week.
On Sunday, several members of Congress attended a briefing in Washington, D.C., to review U.S.-gathered intelligence that linked Syrian President Bashar Assad and state military to an Aug. 21 attack in Damascus that involved the use of chemical agents.
In March, Obama said that any use of chemical weapons by the Syrian military would be a “game-changer” for U.S. intervention in the affair.
On Saturday, the White House sent a draft resolution to Congress urging action and authorizing the president to “use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in connection with the use of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in the conflict in Syria.”
On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations committee approved its own version of the resolution, limiting the scope of hostilities to a specific period of time as well as reducing the president’s scope to act militarily.
Mulvaney said he was against any kind of legislation that “can be used as an excuse to get involved in the broader civil war.”
Mulvaney said he would consider supporting limited action, but only as a way to reinforce international protocols against the use of chemical weapons.
Wednesday morning, Mulvaney said he spent a half-hour on the phone discussing Syria with the No. 2-ranking House Republican, Eric Cantor of Virginia. Cantor, along with House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, recently came out in support of the president’s plan and have appealed to other Republicans in the House for their support.
But Mulvaney said Wednesday the issue isn’t about party lines.
“Folks in my own party have been all over the spectrum on this, and I know the Democrats are the same because I talked to them in the briefing on Sunday,” he said.
“They’re listening to people back home, but they’re not looking at it through the lens of how is this going to impact the 2014 election,” he said.
Mulvaney said he respectfully disagrees with the hawkish stance some of his colleagues have taken on the matter, including U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who called for a broad, effective strike against Syria as a way to mobilize rebel forces and get other nations on board.
Instead, Mulvaney said he thinks the decision will ultimately be a matter of “conscience” regardless of whether he votes against or with the president.
Most lawmakers agreed on Sunday that the evidence presented to them seemed to show a coordinated chemical weapons attack in August had been orchestrated by the Syrian president and his military forces. Mulvaney, who has been an outspoken critic of the National Security Agency over its access to personal phone records, said that he went initially into the briefing with reservations on the credibility of the intelligence.
“It’s perfectly rational for us as human beings to wonder, ‘Well, you lied to us last week, how much can we believe what you’re saying today,’ ” he said. Though he said that even with the “seed of doubt,” he found the intelligence to be credible and believes the evidence points to Syrian state involvement in the attack.
However, Mulvaney said deciding where to “draw a line” is difficult and that the idea of the international community not taking future action to limit the use of chemical weapons is unnerving. He pointed to the fact that China and Russia, as well as longtime ally, Britain, all have expressed reticence to intervene.
“We look at the world sort of through western American eyes that says, ‘OK, in every battle there’s a good guy and a bad guy,’ ” he said. “I’m not entirely convinced the world works like that, and there may be places where there are just bad guys, and Syria may be that place. And if that’s the case, maybe you’re better off doing nothing.”
Jie Jenny Zou • 803-329-4062