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Friday, August 23, 2013
New York - Ranking Member Eliot Engel, the senior Democratic member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, sent a letter to President Obama calling for the destruction of Syria’s military infrastructure.
The letter follows:
Dear Mr. President:
I know you were as shocked as I when you saw the photos of the latest reported chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime in Syria. The images of bodies of deceased children lined up without any outward sign of injury was profoundly disturbing and appalling to millions of people around the world.
I fully agreed with you when you established red lines for the Assad regime, that any use of chemical weapons would represent a rubicon which, if crossed by Syria, would cause the United States to act decisively to halt such violations of international law. This was and remains a morally correct and strategically wise policy.
As you know, there is ample evidence that the regime used such weapons on a limited scale earlier this year. I am deeply concerned that if we do not enforce the red lines, our country and the international community will face several negative consequences because, our credibility is on the line. If we, in concert with our allies, do not respond to Assad’s murderous uses of weapons of mass destruction, malevolent countries and bad actors around the world will see a green light where one was never intended. They will not hesitate to challenge the word of the United States on other issues of great importance because the perception of our resolve will be undermined. Moreover, we have correctly warned Iran that we will not permit it to acquire a nuclear weapon. I am sure that as the Iranians pursue their nuclear agenda, they are carefully watching how we enforce our red line in Syria.
In addition, your actions in Libya serve as illustrative reference for the use of military power in the region. While the ultimate outcome in Libya is still yet to be seen, your Administration was right to intervene there as we were able to do so without boots on the ground -- while still successfully tilting the civil war against the Qadaffi regime. While the situation in Syria is more difficult and complex than the situation was in Libya, our interests in Syria are greater than those in Libya given the country’s alliance with Iran and close relationship to Hezbollah.
I also believe that there is a humanitarian imperative arising from the brutal attack on civilians in Syria. While I agree that our foreign policy must be guided by our interests, among those interests are the protection of civilians against crimes against humanity and severe violations of the laws of war. I believe the Assad regime has repeatedly committed war crimes against civilians and its political opposition. With yesterday’s chemical weapons attack, it took those violations to a new, ghastly level and must be held accountable in the near term.
Mr. President, we cannot fail to respond to this latest use of chemical weapons. I firmly believe that now is the time to act, and act decisively. In a letter I received earlier this week, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey, clearly indicated we have the capacity to do so. We must strike at the regime and destroy its ability to deliver such weapons from the air. We must destroy Assad’s runways, fuel depots, helicopters, and other related military infrastructure. And, we can do this with no boots on the ground, from stand-off distances. I know that your Administration is wrestling with these very complex issues, but I believe that we, as Americans, have a moral obligation to step in without delay and stop the slaughter.
ELIOT L. ENGEL