The Senate’s top Republican said Tuesday that he opposes military intervention in Syria, breaking days of silence on a proposed resolution authorizing the use of force in the war-torn country.
“I will be voting against this resolution,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor in his first public remarks addressing the proposed resolution to respond to the Syrian regime's reported use of chemical weapons. “A vital national security risk is clearly not at play.”
“The president’s proposal seems fundamentally flawed, since if it’s too narrow, it may not deter [Syrian President Bashar] Assad's use of chemical weapons, but if it’s too broad, it risks jeopardizing the security of these same stockpiles, essentially putting them into the hands of extremists,” he added.
McConnell is the last of the four congressional leaders to announce his position on Syria and the only one to oppose President Barack Obama’s call for strikes in response to Assad’s reported use of chemical weapons. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., have both publicly backed the authorization; so has House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, McConnell’s Republican counterpart in the House.
A test vote on the resolution was expected on Wednesday, but Reid delayed the procedural move amid the emergence of a potential diplomatic deal to address the chemical weapons as well as mounting opposition to the president's original proposal.
McConnell said that a new proposal by Russia, Syria’s backer, that could transfer the chemical weapons stockpile to international control would be worth “exploring.”
But, he added, destroying chemical weapons is “extremely challenging” and such an agreement is still “a long way off.”
McConnell is facing a primary challenge in his home state of Kentucky. His rival, businessman Matt Bevin, said on MSNBC’s The Daily Rundown last week that he “adamantly” opposes military action and that McConnell had failed to show “leadership” on the Syria issue by waiting to announce his position.
A spokeswoman for Bevin offered mock "congratulations" to McConnell for "finally coming off the sidelines" on the issue only after public opinion showed overwhelming opposition to military action.
"Once it looked increasingly clear that the strikes will not happen, Sen. McConnell read the tea leaves," Bevin spokeswoman Sarah Durand said.
In his remarks Tuesday, the MConnell said that his opposition to the resolution should not be interpreted as shift towards 'isolationism.'
“I've never been an isolationist, and a vote against this resolution shouldn't be confused by anyone as a turn in that direction,” he said. "But just as the most committed isolationist could be convinced of the need for intervention under the right circumstances when confronted with a threat, so too do the internationalists among us believe that all interventions are not created equal. And this proposal just does not stand up."
First published September 10 2013, 7:42 AM