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Paul Ryan Opposes Strike on Syria

Paul Ryan Opposes Strike on Syria

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - September 11, 2013

Republican Rep. Paul Ryan said Wednesday he will not back President Obama's push for U.S. strikes against Syria, joining a chorus of potential 2016 presidential candidates opposed to military action there.

Ryan's announcement comes less than a day after Obama’s prime-time address to the nation regarding Syria, in which he asked Congress to hold off on a strike-authorization vote while the administration explores a diplomatic solution -- but to keep the option of military force in reserve. Ryan, the GOP’s 2012 vice presidential candidate, said he did not think the proposed strike could achieve the objectives the president outlined.

“In fact, I fear it will make things worse,” Ryan said. “The president says a show of force will preserve our credibility. But a feckless show of force will only damage our credibility.”

Other GOP lawmakers thought to be considering a presidential run, including Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, have also voiced opposition to the strikes. Rubio is the only one who has had a chance to vote on the issue: He opposed a strike-authorization resolution narrowly passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week. Ryan’s comments put him at odds with John Boehner and Eric Cantor, the top two Republican leaders in the House, who backed the White House last week.

But Ryan’s circumstance is a tricky one. As Mitt Romney’s running mate, he said during a vice presidential debate with Joe Biden that the GOP ticket agreed with “the same red line” that the Obama administration cited regarding chemical weapons use in Syria. When asked by moderator Martha Raddatz what would happen if Bashar al-Assad did not fall, Ryan said that Iran would keep “their greatest ally in the region. He's a sponsor of terrorism. He'll probably continue slaughtering his people. We, and the world community, will lose our credibility on this.”

In explaining his opposition to Obama’s proposal, Ryan said the president’s abrupt change of course after asking lawmakers to give him the green light to launch cruise missiles -- intended to degrade Syria’s ability to use chemical weapons again -- has “reinforced our credibility gap. After making the case for a firm, rapid response, President Obama has called for an indefinite delay. He lacks a clear strategy, and now he's following Russia's lead.”

Ryan said the U.S. military has no place in Syria’s civil war, but that America has a “stake in the outcome.”

“The best punishment for Assad’s war crimes is for the moderate elements of the opposition to prevail. But the president’s ill-conceived, half-hearted proposal will do little to help. … It will merely curse the past, when we need to protect the future.”

The president asked Congress to take a timeout this week, after Syria agreed (with a push from Russia) to put its chemical weapons arsenal in international hands. Lawmakers are distrustful of Russian President Vladimir Putin. While they are relieved to avoid casting a tough vote -- for now, anyway -- they are suspicious of Russia’s motives and its willingness to follow through on the deal. (The country pulled out of planned talks with the United Nations on Tuesday.)

White House Spokesman Jay Carney admitted Wednesday that securing the chemical weapons “would be a complex operation.” He dismissed the notion that U.S. troops would help secure the weapons, insisting there will be “no boots on the ground involved in the Syrian civil war.”

Despite the president’s eagerness to keep the military option alive -- a threat that the White House argues led to this new Plan B -- several lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have come out against strikes. Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer, a Republican who had dinner at the White House on Sunday as part of the administration’s lobbying efforts, also announced Wednesday she cannot support the president’s “pinball diplomacy.” 

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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