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WASHINGTON — A senior US congressman says Christianity’s roots in the Middle East would justify a decision by President Barack Obama to intervene in Syria’s bloody civil war.
The Obama administration says it is seeking definitive evidence whether Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad ordered several alleged recent uses of chemical weapons by his forces. Even before a probe of a recent US intelligence assessment about those alleged incidents, lawmakers from both parties wanted Obama to use the US military to stop the fighting.
And one, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., told reporters last Friday part of the reason he favors a US mission there is to preserve the region that was home to Christianity’s genesis.
“There’s a huge US interest in the region. Our commitment to the Levante is long-standing, partially because of our relationship with Israel and with Lebanon,” Issa told a handful of reporters after leaving a classified briefing on the Syria intel assessment and possible US options.
“Partially, if you will, because of this being an area of the Holy Land,” Issa added. “The oldest churches. So much of Christianity is there.”
Issa went on to describe other reasons he believes Washington should get involved in the civil conflict that the United Nations says has killed at least 70,000 people. But it is rare for US lawmakers to so bluntly urge combat operations for, in part, religious reasons.
Issa compared the aims of Islamic extremist groups to those of the Soviet Union, warning of a “Domino Theory” under which a series of Middle East nations would become controlled by al Qaida or sympathetic Islamist governments.
During the Cold War era, Washington became embroiled in several conflicts in places like Vietnam due to “Domino Theory” worries that if Communist regimes were allowed to take hold in one Asian nation, the same would happen in neighboring states.
“Al-Qaida and other Islamic extremists … have taken a checkerboard” of states across the Middle East, Issa said. “Syria would unite the checkerboard.
What’s more, Issa warned, “if Jordan falls ... and along with the new Muslim Brotherhood-led government of Egypt, you connect the dots, and what you see is an area that’s very different from the West.”
For such reasons, “all of NATO has a strategic reason because they would see this all on the border of our closest ally,” Issa said, referring to Israel.
House and Senate members were briefed late last week by Secretary of State John Kerry, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Adm. James Winnefeld about that US intelligence assessment that Assad’s forces had used chemical weapons on a “small scale.”
Lawmakers from both parties left the meetings uncharacteristically united in calling for the US to step in. But all appeared to agree inserting American ground forces would be a mistake.
“Every option’s on the table, as far as Syria is concerned,” House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., told reporters Friday after leaving one of the classified briefings.
Ruppersberger and Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., a senior House Foreign Affairs Committee member, confirmed to reporters the Obama administration is exploring several military options.