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Congressman And War Vet Argues Against Syria Strike


We're going to hear now from one House Republican who's already on the record opposing a U.S. military strike in Syria. That's New York Congressman Chris Gibson. Before his election to the House in 2010, Gibson served 24 years in the Army, and that includes four combat tours in Iraq. Congressman Gibson, welcome to the program.

REP. CHRIS GIBSON: Thanks, Melissa. Good to be with you.

BLOCK: Why don't you lay out first just why you oppose a military strike on Syria?

GIBSON: Well, certainly I'm very saddened about the situation on the ground in Syria. This is a humanitarian crisis, and, you know, our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims, to their families. But we have to ask ourselves a fundamental question: If we bomb that country, are we going to make it better, or are we going to make it worse?

It's my judgment that we really run the risk of escalating the conflict, Americanizing that civil war, all of this not in our interest and certainly not in the interest of an ultimate peaceful resolution to that civil war. I support remaining on the diplomatic track.

I think that we need to work with the warring factions, the stakeholders in the region, any country that's interested in making a difference on this to ratchet up the pressure, to isolate the Assad regime using economic sanctions as well so that we can get the Assad regime to yield to concessions and to a mediated settlement.

BLOCK: But, congressman, President Assad has shown absolutely no interest in that diplomatic track. In fact, he says that the opponents that he's facing are terrorists, that there is no diplomatic solution here. So why do you put faith in that?

GIBSON: I think that we have not reached the level of isolation of that regime that would bring about those concessions. This is where I think we need to work with all the stakeholders and those in the region. I - I'm encouraged to hear Russia is talking about sending an envoy here. Certainly we have to be wary of all our interactions across the globe.

I think that that calculus could change if we bomb the country. I believe that, internationally, we'd be viewed as partially responsible for the civil war at that point, and I think that would make the diplomatic track much more difficult.

BLOCK: What about the argument, Congressman Gibson, that chemical weapons set a very different benchmark for the world? We heard the president say the world set a red line. This isn't my red line, he said. It's the world's red line. Do you disagree with that?

GIBSON: Well, I think it's abhorrent, and I condemn the action. I reject the notion that the only way to condemn this is to engage in a military attack.

BLOCK: Congressman, have you watched the videos of the people killed in the apparent chemical weapons attacks - the women, the children gasping for breath...


BLOCK: ...convulsing?

GIBSON: Deeply saddening. Deeply saddening, very troubling. And, you know...

BLOCK: But did any of that make you think this crosses a line that we cannot tolerate? This demands action. This demands military action.

GIBSON: The loss of any life saddens me, and I say that from the vantage point of being a combat veteran; you know, having seen lives lost in war, seeing troopers wounded. I was wounded myself in the line of battle. I certainly get the impacts of war. But we still have to ask the fundamental question: Will - if we attack that country, will we make it better; or will we make it worse?

And we should make sure that we take action. I'm arguing for action. I'm just - I'm arguing for the diplomatic track and to combine that with economic sanctions to isolate the Assad regime and ultimately compel them to make concessions. I would argue that at the end of the day, that is a better way to get to the desired outcome, and it sets a better precedent going forward.

Now, let me say something about the rebels. You know, look, this is a very disparate group, some of whom shot at my paratroopers, shot at our troopers in Iraq, and I do not want to see us empower those who want to do us harm. So I think we also have to be very careful about that aspect.

BLOCK: Congressman, along with your deployments to Iraq, you also deployed to Kosovo and will remember that back in 1999, it was a NATO bombing campaign that drove the Serbs out of Kosovo, stopped ethnic cleansing and atrocities there and ultimately led to a diplomatic settlement. So why not see that as a positive use of force that could lead to the diplomatic arrangement that you're talking about?

GIBSON: Well, yes, I did serve there. But I would also tell you that, you know, my experiences in the Middle East inform me, less so than in Kosovo, and that is I saw firsthand the impact on locals, Iraqis, in terms of their interpretation of our actions. We worked very hard to earn the trust of the local sheiks and the people in Iraq. They had grown up with a certain perspective of the United States and our role in the world.

But if we end up bombing that country, we could end up uniting forces, getting people who would be otherwise neutral. I don't think the situation in Syria mirrors the situation in the former Yugoslavia, particularly given how this will be perceived in the region, this action that potentially our country could take. And I, once again, urge us not to take that action.

BLOCK: That's Congressman Chris Gibson, Republican of New York. Congressman, thanks for your time.

GIBSON: Thank you. God bless everyone. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.