Members of Congress from Missouri and Kansas universally praised President Donald Trump’s missile strike in Syria — including Republicans who criticized former President Barack Obama four years ago for contemplating military action after a similar chemical attack there killed hundreds of civilians near Damascus.
Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt told a St. Louis radio station on Friday that Trump’s strike “was the right thing to do and the right response to another atrocity, six years now of atrocities by the (Bashar Assad) regime.”
“Finally the United States enforces the red line that we drew at the beginning of this, that president Obama drew almost six years ago,” said Blunt, a Republican member of the Senate’s secretive intelligence committee. “…I think it’s a significant message for our friends and our adversaries around the world.”
Blunt added that he’s always thought “more could and should be done” in Syria.
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But in September 2013, Blunt opposed Obama’s request for Congress to authorize military action in Syria following a chemical attack using banned Sarin gas.
Blunt said he wasn’t convinced Obama’s strategy “lines up with the policy goals our country should have” in Syria.
“After careful consideration and a number of briefings on this topic, I believe this strategy and the unknown response it may provoke are the wrong thing to do, and I will not support the resolution the president has asked for,” Blunt said.
Like Blunt, Kansas Reps. Lynn Jenkins and Kevin Yoder on Friday applauded Trump’s decision to launch a missile attack on Syria.
“I applaud Trump’s swift and decisive action to show that America will no longer stand on the sideline as innocent men, women, and babies are brutally killed in Syria,” Jenkins said in a statement on Friday.
Jenkins also urged Trump “to work with Congress to develop a clear and comprehensive strategy for Syria and the surrounding region” in the coming weeks.
Yoder’s statement on Friday said Trump’s “decisive, surgical response was the right action to take in Syria.”
“The use of chemical weapons are a threat to us all and as we have seen over the past several years, allowing Assad to murder his people and destabilize the region has led to a refugee crisis that endangers our national security by opening up the United States and our allies to attacks by ISIS,” Yoder said.
“As we move forward, it is incumbent upon the president to clearly communicate our policy in Syria to the American people and work with Congress in authorizing force for any broader action,” he added.
In 2013, however, Jenkins and Yoder were among 116 members of Congress who signed a letter that warned Obama that retaliating against Syria without consulting Congress would be unconstitutional.
“Your responsibility to do so is prescribed in the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution of 1973,” the letter reads.
Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran of Kansas also opposed Obama’s plans to intervene militarily in Syria in 2013, but lauded Trump on Friday for doing so.
“I applaud President Trump’s decision to take action in Syria against the atrocities committed by the Assad regime with its use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians,” Roberts said in a statement. “This action is a wake-up call to Assad and our other adversaries around the world — that the United States will not idly stand by and let these atrocities continue.”
In 2013, however, he said Obama’s request to Congress to take military action against Syria did “not address my concerns about the goals of such an attack nor the details of our nation’s involvement, today and in the future.”
“While I recognize the horror of citizens and their children being murdered by their own government, whether by poison gas or bombs and bullets, it is clear we have no meaningful collation of allies — not the UN, the Arab League or even the British — nor detailed plan of action, nor clear picture of our objective,” Roberts said at the time. “The President insists he has the authority to conduct a very limited military strike — a shot across the bow of the Assad regime — not war or even action to affect a regime change. Obviously Syrian President Bashar Assad will think this action will mean war.”
Moran on Friday was more restrained than some of his fellow Republicans. The statement he issued did not mention Trump by name and praised the military rather than the president.
Assad violated international law with the continued use of chemical weapons, “further demonstrating the Syrian regime’s disregard for humanity,” Moran said.
He added that the president “must work with Congress and present to the American people a strategy that outlines clear goals and the means necessary to achieve them.”
In response to requests from The Star to explain how their 2013 positions squared with their support of Trump’s actions this week, Yoder, Roberts and Jenkins said:
▪ Yoder: He believes that, in addition to continued use of chemical weapons, the refugee crisis has risen to a level that has become a threat to the national security of the United States due to ISIS’s stated goals of infiltrating refugees to attack our homeland.
“Deterring Assad from further destabilizing the region is in the United States interest,” and email from his office states.
▪ Roberts: “This strike was not an act of war, it was a single precision strike against a specific target to disable Syria’s use of chemical weapons. Unlike President Obama, President Trump confronted the barbaric act of using chemical weapons in Syria and took action during a key moment,” Roberts said in an email.
“Rather than act on his own authority in 2013, President Obama came to Congress without a serious, specific plan of action and after five years of failed foreign policy, Congress had little confidence in President Obama’s ability to carry out an effective strategy in Syria that would have improved the situation on the ground.”
▪ Jenkins: “It has been 4 years since I signed the letter regarding Syria,” the congresswoman said in an email. “Since then President Obama and Secretary Kerry assured us all chemical weapons were out of Syria, which this heinous attack shows clearly wasn’t the case.”
The bloodshed and fighting has not changed under Assad’s regime, she said.
“While many would have preferred more public discourse, the response from the president last night to this attack was swift, decisive and narrow in scope,” Jenkins said. “The White House has expressed they had support from China, Canada and countries in the Middle East for this limited action. As I said in my statement last night, President Trump now needs to work with Congress in the coming weeks to develop a clear and comprehensive strategy for Syria.”
Democrats in Congress also welcomed news of the strikes on Friday, but they cautioned against letting America get pulled too far into a regional conflict without a clear strategy.
“While I wish that U.S. military involvement in Syria could have been avoided, the president had to respond to the barbarity of Bashar al-Assad,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Kansas City.
“The lesson that I hope we have learned from our 15 years of costly involvement in Afghanistan is that we should not allow any region of the world to lure us into their endless sectarian squabbles, rather, we must by example, charm them into our unique brand of democracy,” Cleaver said.
“I’m supportive of these strikes — against a source of barbaric chemical weapons attacks on civilians,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat. “I just hope it wasn’t an impulsive reaction, but rather part of a broader plan and strategy.”