WestViews: Risch is asking the right questions on Syrian crisis

September 9, 2013 

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Our take: Idaho’s congressional delegation is correct in questioning the president’s call to take military action in Syria.

Lewiston Tribune

American presidents seem tortured by one historical lesson — the price of not standing up to aggression.

But ordinary Americans have nightmares of their own — quagmires in foreign lands that have sapped their treasure and brought young people home, either maimed or dead from those adventures.

The first lesson is the so-called Munich analogy. It refers to the decision of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier to appease Adolf Hitler by ceding control over much of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany.

After striking the deal in 1938, Chamberlain proclaimed “peace in our time.”

Munich has come to stand for the perils of not confronting despots forcefully and early. Had the Democratic powers — including the U.S. — checked Hitler in the 1930s, he would have retreated and possibly been deposed by his military, preventing World War II. Appeasement merely encouraged him.

In the case of Vietnam or the second Gulf War, getting in was much easier than getting out.

It’s this lesson that undoubtedly drives Americans’ resistance to their president’s call to action in Syria.

President Obama sees the specter of Munich in the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons against its own people. If the Syrian government is not brought to heel, what further atrocities might it commit?

Some of the best questions, so far, have come from Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho. Serving on the Foreign Relations Committee, Risch Wednesday joined the minority in opposing Obama’s request for congressional authorization.

Here’s what Risch is saying:

- “I want to hear the analysis of what happens if you do pull the trigger,” Risch told Boise’s KTVB. “You heard (Obama’s) statement that it was going to be a one-shot deal sort of thing is what he described. Well, what happens if (Syrian strongman Bashar) Assad turns around and ups the ante and kills 5,000 people or 10,000 people with the nerve gas, which he has the capability of doing. What do you do then?”

- This is no Afghanistan. Syria has some of the most sophisticated weaponry Russia can supply. So what happens after the U.S. intervenes? “My biggest fear is escalation and the unknown,” Risch said.

- If not responding to the chemical attack threatens U.S. credibility, what about staging any attack that leaves Assad still in power?

Here’s one more you’d hope Risch or one of his colleagues might ask:

What commitments, if any, have the U.S. made to Syrian insurgents? How deeply involved are we already?

RISCH GETS IT RIGHT ON SYRIA

Post Register, Idaho Falls

CHEERS to Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho. On Wednesday, Idaho’s junior senator joined with the minority on the Foreign Relations Committee in opposing President Obama’s request for congressional approval to bomb Syria.

That was the right call. What the Syrian government is doing to its own people is horrific. So were atrocities committed in places such as Darfur, Rwanda and Nigeria, and yet the United States didn’t bomb those countries.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have broken the bank, killed thousands of American soldiers and left even more physically maimed and emotionally traumatized. The citizens of this country are sick of war and realize America cannot police the world.

It’s not just that vote for which Risch deserves credit, however. It’s the work he did leading up to it.

Risch is the second-ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee and No. 3 on the Intelligence Committee. As he enjoys pointing out, Risch is privy to information his constituents are not.

Given his seat at these tables, we should listen when Risch talks about the danger of emboldening Syrian President Bashar Assad with a limited strike and the potential for undercutting America’s ability to deal with Iran.

Risch has for weeks struck a cautious tone on Syria. He did so at a question-and-answer session with the Idaho Falls City Club last month. Idahoans saw it in recent comments to the media: “I want to hear the analysis of what happens if you do pull the trigger,” Risch told a Boise TV station. “... What happens if Assad turns around and ups the ante and kills another 5,000 people or 10,000 people with the nerve gas, which he has the capability of doing? What do you do then?”

What happens, Risch asked, if the U.S. takes out Assad? Who replaces him? Could it be someone even worse? “I’m not getting answers to that that are adequate, other than it will be all right,” Risch said. “And I’m not satisfied with that.”

Risch and the other members of Idaho’s delegation were right in insisting President Obama seek congressional approval to bomb Syria. Sen. Mike Crapo and Reps. Raul Labrador and Mike Simpson would do well to join Risch in voting to keep America out of the Syrian civil war.

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