On left and right, Tampa Bay lawmakers skeptical of Syria strike

U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, said he did not think a vote to strike would pass if held now.
U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, said he did not think a vote to strike would pass if held now.
Published Sept. 2, 2013

TAMPA — Florida politicians on each end of the political spectrum spoke out against approving a military strike against Syria following a classified congressional briefing Sunday.

Their reservations illustrate the difficult task President Barack Obama faces as he seeks congressional approval for what he describes as a limited strike to punish the Syrian regime for using chemical weapons.

U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, said Sunday that despite compelling circumstantial evidence, he did not think a vote would pass if held now.

Several representatives said Congress must first decide whether there is a compelling national interest at stake before weighing how to proceed.

"Without a direct threat to the national security of the United States, I oppose an overt military strike against Syria," U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, wrote in a letter to Obama. "As I have visited with my neighbors across my district this month, I have heard from many of them who are extremely wary of military action that could lead to greater entanglement in a region where fighting factions are not aligned with the United States and our allies or our national interests. I urge you to be cautious and conservative and fully analyze the strategic aftermath."

Lawmakers said they expect the United Nations to present evidence to corroborate U.S. claims that chemical weapons were used. Several argue that current legislation authorizing a strike is too broad and gives the president too much power.

"We have played a game with our foreign policy thinking that we can continue to bully people in the Middle East, including the Russians," said Ross, whose district includes parts of Hillsborough County. "We now are in a box, and that box is looking for congressional affirmation."

Ross called the use of chemical weapons "absolutely horrific" and said other countries should be outraged. However, he said, the United States should not operate unilaterally.

Ross and Castor both warned of the unintentional consequences, such as a retaliation against Israel or a spike in violence within Syria.

"An overt military strike by the United States is likely to exacerbate violence in the Middle East and put needed stability further out of reach," Castor wrote. "In Syria, the civil war for dominance between the controlling Arab Alawites, the Arab Sunni majority, the Kurdish minority, and other Christian and Druze minorities is complicated by proxy actors in the region and decades of incompetent authoritarian leadership and economic stagnation. A singular military strike by the United States will not change these dynamics."

The nation could expect to see a response from Congress within the next 10 days, Ross said.

"Engaging our military should include a clear, attainable goal and consider whether a direct national security risk to the United States exists," Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, said in a statement. "I share the concerns of many of my constituents in engaging in this civil war and will be returning to Washington to examine the evidence and debate this on the House floor."