Former Foreign Service officer and Eastern Iowa U.S. Rep. Jim Leach has grave reservations about proposed military retaliation against Syria for using chemical weapons on its own people.
“I have no doubt that there has been a use of chemical weapons,” former Republican congressman said Friday in Cedar Rapids. “I have grave doubts that actions that may be contemplated will be effective.”
“They may have a counterproductive effect,” said Leach, now a visiting professor at the University of Iowa College of Law. “That has to be weighed seriously in the equation.”
In his remarks to Intersections, a civility project of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, Leach talked about considering the proportionality and effectiveness of the United States’ response to the use of chemical weapons.
Syria, he said, represents the “total, utter, complete breakdown of civility.” If people don’t respect the opinions of others, if they don’t respect and accommodate differences, “societies break down in one way or another.”
So the case can be made that United States has little choice but to take action, Leach said. “But you must ask will it be effective, will it be proportional.”
Does the U.S. want to be the “punisher of first resort?” he asked. Or should Obama be concerned that his actions may have a “rippling effect with consequences we don’t foresee?”
“Not to act has geo-political and moral consequences, Leach said. “To act, the same.
“The only certitude,” he said, “is unexpected consequences.”
Although he believes “all options are awful,” Leach said the best outcome would be to work with the Russians to impose a peace settlement on the Syrians.
Domestically, the only positive aspect is that the vote on authorizing military action may results in broad bipartisan agreement.
“You may get a bunch of Republicans to vote for and a bunch to vote against the president and likewise, Democrats,” he said. “The best bipartisanship is to have both parties to get divided on an issue.”
Leach, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, said it would be a mistake for President Obama not to honor the congressional vote on the authorization of military action in Syria. Obama has claimed constitutional authority to act without congressional approval, but has asked Congress for authorization.
“I think there should be shared accountability,” he said. While one cannot constitutionally bind a president, he said, referring to the War Powers Act, which gives the president certain discretion for a limited period of time.
“My own personal sense is that to act against congressional advice after having called for it probably would be a mistake,” he said.
In response to a question from the audience, Leach called the use of Agent Orange, an herbicide, in Vietnam, “an embarrassment in our history … something we should deeply regret.”
Comments: (319 398-8375; firstname.lastname@example.org