67 Questions (From Liberals) for Obama on Syria
Posted at 11:38 a.m. on Sept. 9, 2013
(Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
While the co-chairmen of the Congressional Progressive Caucus seem to be split on intervention in Syria, both agree on one thing: President Barack Obama has not answered all the questions.
The leaders of the CPC, Reps. Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona, sent Obama 67 questions on a broad range of topics involving a potential U.S. military strike in Syria, including the national security threat posed by Syria, the evidence of a chemical attack in Syria, who will benefit from U.S. intervention, the temperature of the international community and the cost of a potential strike.
Ellison appears to support intervention, while Grijalva opposes it.
Ellison and Grijalva thanked Obama for making White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough available for questions, but said in their letter, “members of the Caucus have several follow up questions they were not able to ask on the calls.”
“The answers will weigh on Members as they cast their vote,” the CPC letter to Obama said.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus, a key alliance for Obama as he makes his bid to gain congressional authorization for intervention in Syria, wants the answers by close of business on Sept. 11.
The list of questions:
U.S. Security Interests, Evidence and the United Nations
1. What is the threat to U.S. national security from Assad using chemical weapons in Syria?
2. What is the threat to U.S. national security if the U.S. does not use force in Syria?
3. What is biggest possible downside if the U.S. DOES NOT attack?
4. If the U.S. does not attack, how will it affect our credibility and what impact will that have
on U.S. national security?
5. What concerns do you have for Israel if the U.S. does not attack?
6. What concerns do you have for Israel if the U.S. does attack?
7. Would the Administration support an option allowing limited military action that would
only be authorized once certain prerequisites have been met?
8. What is the role of the [United Nations] Security Council in authorizing use of force?
9. What other countries have made a commitment to join in the attack by launching missiles
or dropping bombs? What, exactly, have France and Turkey and Kuwait and the UAE
promised to do, if anything?
10. The United Nations Charter forbids unilateral military action by any nation against
another. Does the U.S. proposed attack violate the U.N. Charter?
11. There are 189 signers of the Chemical Weapons Convention. How many of them have
pledged to participate in a military intervention in Syria?
12. If we do not attack Syria, will any other nation?
13. What new approaches is the Administration taking towards Russia, Iran, China and other
key actors to advance a political solution — or in the case of Russia, in particular, ensure
that their military support for the Syrian regime is reduced or ended, especially in light of
Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people?
14. Why is NATO unwilling to participate in this attack? Why is the Arab League unwilling
to participate in this attack?
15. What the Administration claims Assad has done is a punishable offense under
international law, and could be prosecuted. Has the Administration taken any action
within the International Criminal Court, or any other international body, to bring Bashar
al-Assad to justice for war crimes and crimes against humanity?
16. Do we possess any information about the chemical weapons attack that the British
government did not have in its possession at the time of Parliament’s decision to not
engage militarily in Syria?
17. What is the status of the United Nations chemical weapons inspectors report on Syria?
18. Can we wait for the final report of the UN inspectors before voting on military
involvement in Syria?
19. Has the White House issued a rationale for not waiting until the United Nations
inspectors issue their final report, as Russian officials have reportedly stated that they
might support a UN resolution after its issuance?
20. The Assad regime has denied ordering the chemical weapons attack, and Russia is
backing the regime in that claim. In light of that, will you declassify the evidence that the
Assad regime ordered the attack, in order to prove the Administration right and the Assad
regime and Russia wrong?
21. There has been a report in the media that the Administration has mischaracterized post-attack
Syrian military communications, and that these communications actually expressed
surprise about the attack. This is a serious charge. Can you release the original
transcripts so that the American people can make their own judgment?
22. Iran’s President, Hasan Rouhani, has condemned the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
Have you asked Iran to cut off military aid to Syria if Syria does not comply?
23. Would the White House support an AUMF resolution that complies with all sections of
the War Powers Act? Does the President support the War Powers Act?
24. How can the Convention on Chemical Weapons be enforced against Syria when Syria
has not signed it? Are there other treaties and conventions that can now be enforced
against the United States, even if the United States has not signed them?
25. To date, the Administration has claimed that the Syrian government has violated
“international norms,” not “international laws.” Is the Administration in fact contending
that the Syrian government has violated international laws? If so, which ones, and how?
What is the enforcement mechanism outlined in such laws?
26. The statement from UN Diplomat Carla Del Ponte that there is strong, concrete
suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof that rebels seeking to oust Syrian President
Bashar al-Assad had used nerve agents. Has she been contacted regarding her concrete
27. What is our assessment of specific allegations from rebels (who aren’t fond of Assad) that
the rebels used chemical weapons provided by Prince Bandar?
28. What are some possible considerations if Congress takes up authorization for the use of
military force against Syria?
29. What other information or intelligence do we have linking the rebels or other nongovernment
forces to the chemical weapons attack of Aug 21st?
30. What are the limits and extent of covert action authorities with respect to Syria?
Effectiveness of Strikes on Syria’s Chemical Weapons Capacities
31. What is the likelihood that a U.S. military strike will prevent the use of more chemical
32. How will our military action prevent Assad from using chemical weapons again?
33. What will the U.S. do if Assad uses more chemical weapons after an attack?
34. Could the United States destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stocks through military action?
What would be needed to secure chemical weapons sites during an intervention?
35. Does the contemplated attack include an attack on actual stocks of chemical weapons?
Regardless of whether it does or not, do we know with certitude where every stockpile of
chemical weapons in Syria is stored? If not, do we risk the spread of these chemicals and
Impact on Syrians and Syrian Civil War
36. Who are the Syrian rebels?
37. What evidence do we have that the rebels are not al Qaeda?
38. Everyone keeps saying that there is only a political solution to the conflict in Syria. How
does the Administration see these limited military strikes advancing a political solution?
39. If the U.S. engages in military strikes against the Assad regime, what strategies will it
deploy to mitigate harm to the civilian population? What strategies will it deploy to
mitigate harm to the civilian population by the Assad regime after the U.S. has carried
out its military strikes?
40. Several wayward military strikes in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan had high civilian
casualties which created significant blowback against the U.S. and severely eroded our
reputation. Have you considered that events might occur during a U.S. missile strike such
as a mosque blowing up, street fair, or school (instigated by Assad, Al-Qaeda, or Al
Nour) that the U.S. could be blamed for?
41. Have any members of the Syrian opposition called for such an attack? If so, whom? If
not, why not?
42. Will this U.S. military action in Syria end the civil war? Will it overthrow the Assad
regime? Will it eliminate the Assad regime’s capability to engage in future chemical
43. The Pentagon estimates that there are between 800 and 1,200 rebel groups currently
active in Syria. Some of them support a jihad against the United States. How can we
possibly control, or even influence, which one benefits most from our involvement in
44. Three months ago, the Administration said that it would arm the Syrian rebels. They
have not yet been armed. Wouldn’t it be more effective and prudent to arm the rebels
than to launch a unilateral attack?
45. The International Crisis Group, one of few international organizations with a
longstanding presence on the ground in Syria, is unequivocal that diplomatic efforts
cannot be re-energized in the wake of a U.S. attack. Is that correct? U.S. military action in
Iraq devastated the health infrastructure of the country, what precautions have been put
into place to ensure this will not happen in Syria? Are emergency care locations
equipped to handle a rise in casualties? Do you anticipate an exodus of health care
professionals, such as we saw in Iraq? Will you commit funding to provide necessary
care to injured Syrian civilians?
46. Since civilian casualties have led you here before us today, will you commit to the people
of the United States that no civilian deaths will occur in whatever military strike takes
place in Syria? Do you have an estimate of such deaths? If so, what is it?
47. What have been some of the possible humanitarian policy considerations for Congress to
date? What effect might military action have on the humanitarian crisis?
48. If the goal is to relieve the suffering of Syrian civilians, wouldn’t humanitarian aid to
refugees be more effective than launching a military attack? Would a missile strike in
Syria help any of the more than two million Syrian refugees from this civil war?
49. With the Administration’s commendable concern for the lives of the Syrian people and
the fate that many have already suffered at the hands of their own government, is the
Administration prepared to allow more Syrian refugees into the U.S.? How many people
would get asylum? Has the administration considered proposals to allow those with
family members in the U.S. to join them, or to increase the number of student visas
available for those whose studies have been disrupted by the war?
50. On September 3, the UNHCR reported that it had received less than half of the funds
needed to address basic refugee needs. Since any U.S. military actions in Syria are likely
to exacerbate the humanitarian needs across the region, will the administration be willing
to help correct this shortfall? Have any allies committed to providing additional funding?
What pressure could be placed on Russia, which so far has committed only $10 million
Responses to a U.S. Attack
51. What is the range of responses we can expect from Syria if we attack?
52. What are Syria’s options regarding a counterattack? What has been done to forestall such
53. Is it possible that a U.S. attack on Syria will result in a Syrian attack on Israel, similar to
what happened when the United States attacked Iraq? Could such an attack be a
chemical attack? What would be the appropriate U.S. response?
54. What will Iran do if we attack?
55. Do Syria and Hezbollah have the means to launch a counterattack against U.S. vessels in
the Mediterranean? How about the U.S. Embassy in Beirut?
56. Is it possible that Russian military advisers in Syria will by killed by this U.S. attack?
What is the appropriate U.S. response if Russia comes to the aid of Syria militarily?
57. While the civil war in Syria has been in the spotlight for the past two years, another civil
war in Sudan has been going on for much longer. The Administration is eager to punish
the Assad Regime for using chemical weapons with military force, citing a moral
standard. Why wasn’t the Administration actively seeking authorization for military force
in Sudan while the Sudanese government was trying to ethnically cleanse the non-Arab
population in Darfur?
58. How does the Administration intend to keep the United States out of a broader, ongoing
military engagement in Syria if any of the following occur in response to the proposed
American military strike? Would additional Congressional authorization be sought under
any of these scenarios?
Syria launches additional chemical attacks on areas controlled by rebels;
Syria or Hezbollah attack American interests such as our embassies in Lebanon, Israel,
Syria, Iran, or Hezbollah launch missile strikes into Israel, killing Israeli civilians; or
Russia increases military support for the Syrian regime to ensure Assad ‘s survival and
Cost of Military Action Against Syria
59. What funding sources are available for U.S. military intervention in Syria?
60. Will military action in Syria require a supplemental appropriation? If you think not, then
will you commit now not to request one?
61. The Congressional Research Service estimated that the total cost of using force against
Syria could reach between $500 million and $12 billion. Is the White House operating
under the same cost estimates? How is the White House’s estimate on cost derived?
62. What accounts will be used to cover the costs of any military action?
63. What is the estimated financial contribution of U.S. allies, by country, to any potential
military action against Syria?
64. What is the cost per missile that would be used in the proposed military strike?
65. What is estimated total U.S. foreign assistance to Syria, including efforts to assist
refugees fleeing the conflict? What is the estimate for FY14? Are there any pending
funding requests submitted by the Administration that have not been approved?
66. What is the estimated total international assistance being provided to Syrian refugees, and
who are the principal donors?
67. What are the range and factors that would affect the potential cost of U.S. military
intervention in Syria?