Obama calls, but Murphy skeptical on Syria

U.S. Sen. Christopher Murphy said Tuesday he returns to Washington a skeptic of military intervention in Syria, despite a personal phone call Sunday from President Obama seeking the support of the freshman Democrat from Connecticut.

“The president told me this weekend that he firmly believes we can keep this strike limited, and that this will not involve a long term U.S. commitment. But I remain doubtful that this does not escalate in the region,” Murphy said.

Murpy spoke to reporters in Hartford, where he cut short a forum he was hosting on housing finance issues to fly to Washington, where he and other Senate Foreign Relations Committee members are to hear presentations from the secretaries of state and defense.

“I will let the administration make its case after these chemical weapon attacks,” said Murphy, who has been an outspoken skeptic of a U.S. military strike proposed by Obama. “I’m going to have to be convinced this makes sense for the American people.”

Murphy will get a front-row seat as the administration makes that case this week in classified briefings and public venues, beginning this afternoon with presentations by Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

The junior senator from Connecticut succeeded Joseph I. Lieberman, whose hawkish stands on the war in Iraq estranged Lieberman from the Connecticut Democratic Party and left him politically weakened had he sought a fifth term last year.

Lieberman strongly criticized Obama over the weekend for seeking congressional support before striking against Syria over the chemical gas attacks on areas populated by insurgents opposed to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

“I’m sure that our enemies are cheering now as a result of this decision because they realize it’s not clear the president will get authority, and our allies are worried,” Lieberman told Fox News host Chris Wallace on Sunday. “That’s why, again, this resolution or something like it has to pass Congress.”

Murphy said he is sympathetic to the case that a strong message needs to be sent to Iran and North Korea about the risk of pursuing or using weapons of mass destruction.

“I will admit that that part of the argument is persuasive to me, that we need as the one remaining world super power to uphold international norms, and we to send a message to people like the North Koreans and the Iranians that won’t accept this kind of behavior,” Murphy said. “So, I’m going to listen to that argument this week. I don’t know, though, that that that argument is enough to overcome my objections.”

Despite his skepticism, Murphy proclaimed that he has “an open mind” about the administration’s request for congressional support, though he described the resolution before Congress as “a non-starter.”

“It doesn’t have any of the limitations that the president has talked about publicly, such as a restriction against the usage of ground forces,” Murphy said.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said Tuesday he, too, is undecided on a resolution authorizing force in Syria, despite comments to CNN a week ago indicating he felt a U.S. military response was necessary to “send a message,” even if there were risks.

“I am concerned about the potential unintended consequences, but I am more concerned about the repercussions of failing to respond to this violation of morality and international law,” Blumenthal told CNN.

But Blumenthal, in comments last week to CNN and to The Mirror, also cautioned that any military attack should be closely targeted and preferably supported by the international community.

On Tuesday, he told the Mirror that the administration has yet to make “a clear and convincing case” for congressional endorsement of an attack.

“I will make a decision on a vote after a careful and deliberative process,” said Blumenthal, a member of the Armed Services Committee.

In 2002, both of the state’s senators, Lieberman and Chris Dodd, whose old seat is now held by Blumenthal, were among the 29 Democrats and 48 Republicans voted for the Iraq war resolution.

Murphy said he would prefer that U.S. action against Syria have greater international support, as did the U.S. invasion of Iraq. But the lack of international consensus was not central to his skepticism.

“The bar for me in terms of what it takes to intervene militarily around the world is not necessarily that we have international consensus,” Murphy said. “It’s that what we propose to do actually will make a difference.”

 

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