US Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., listens to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the Manama Dialogue in Bahrain on Dec. 7. (US Defense Department)
DUBAI — Despite voting for military action in Syria, the chairman of an important US Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee said the US and much of the world have been highly skeptical of the value of military intervention.
Speaking last week in Manama, Bahrain’s capital, at The Manama Dialogue for Regional Security, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said a Sept. 4 committee vote was not taken to the full Senate because there was a diplomatic opening with Syria to explore the destruction of its chemical weapons.
“When President Obama asked Congress to authorize use of military force against Syria in August to punish the regime’s use of chemical weapons against civilians, 100 senators and 435 members of Congress offered opinions; only 18 of us voted,” he said.
“The 18 of us who serve on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee came back early from a recess, had a vigorous debate, and by a vote of 10 to eight, essentially, we came down on the side of using military force,” Kaine said.
Four reasons, he said, reflected the closeness of the vote: Skepticism in the American public about whether military action could make a positive difference; would engagement at a military level be appreciated; would the US have partners, and how many; and whether there was an alternative.
“It’s not a skepticism about our military,” he said. “It’s not a skepticism about their valor and their capacity; it’s a skepticism about whether military action particularly, as opposed to humanitarian or diplomatic, can actually move the needle, can change the circumstance for the good.”
The US and international public are wary of whether positive results could be achieved.
“I was with some of you three weeks ago at a security conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and global polling of 20,000 individuals in 24 countries on all continents of the world had just been done by a polling organization of international credibility,” Kaine said. “And they discovered, across the globe, a skepticism about engagement in military activity along the lines of: We’re not sure that it will accomplish good.”
The burden of proof is on the shoulders of those who believe military action in a place like Syria can have a positive outcome, the senator said.
“The United States has experience in this regard, and that’s recent experience — many years of investment in Iraq, in our time and our resources and the lives of our young people,” he said. “At the end of military activity in Iraq, the United States was willing to stay under some capacity, the military to provide some services or support for reconstruction going forward. That was not desired by the Iraqi people or government and that was their right to say, ‘No, let’s make a clean break, you should be elsewhere.’
“A third important question for the United States in wrestling with Syria is, will we have partners or not? How many partners will we have? The more partners, the more validation,” Kaine said.
Other nations were not stepping forward to say that the use of chemical weapons justified a military response, he said.
Kaine said many in the Senate did not trust the Syrian opposition.
“A very prominent voice in the Senate on the Republican side — although this is not a partisan issue, the vote was not partisan at all — but a very prominent member critiqued President Obama for wanting to use military force against the Assad regime and said, ‘Why would you, through air strikes, try to become al-Qaeda’s air force?’ ”
The US will always wrestle with these four questions when foreign intervention is considered, he said. “Those are questions that don’t apply just to Syria, but will probably apply to our analysis of any situation that would require use of the American military force.
“Each of those have answers. There are circumstances that would compel a positive answer to all those four,” Kaine said. “But if those of us in policy positions cannot provide the answers, we will face a skeptical public, as we did, and a skeptical vote, as we did, in late August.” ■