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Coats warns of bigger picture if U.S. attacks Syrian regime

Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., said Thursday in Fort Wayne he has not made up his mind on whether the U.S. should launch military strikes against the Syrian government for using chemical weapons against its citizens.

"Unless I get full clarification as to exactly what is it (President Barack Obama) is trying to do and what the full consequences of that are, pro and con, I'm not ready to make a decision for it," Coats told about 50 people gathered for a "Coffee with Coats" public meeting at the Aboite Township trustee's office and fire department.

He said a Senate resolution permitting U.S. airstrikes against the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad does not take into account the larger picture regarding conflicts in the Mideast.

"The president makes it sound like 'a few shots across the bow' will send the signal that never again should you use chemical weapons and all will be fine," said Coats, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "That doesn't speak to the potential consequences or retaliation by Hezbollah or by Iran, by any other entity, that could escalate this into a much larger situation.

"This is the debate we need to have," he said.

“Too much focus has been on the single issue of the use of chemical weapons and what should be our response to that particular use and what's the downside of not doing anything – what signal does that send to Iran, North Korea and others," he said. "Or the other side of that, and that is if we do do something, what are the potential implications for it escalating into something much more than was being suggested?

"I've got to get answers to these questions, and so far I don't have those answers," he said.

The chamber's Foreign Relations Committee voted 10-7 on Wednesday in favor of a resolution to authorize U.S. military intervention in the Syrian civil war. The full Senate is expected to begin debating the resolution Monday.

Coats' audience Thursday did not seem to favor U.S. retaliation over Assad's alleged use of saran gas in August, which reportedly killed 1,429 people.

"Syria's fight is with al-Qaida; it's a civil war," local accountant Joseph Walburn said. "It has nothing to do with us. It's not worth our blood or treasure."

Many in the audience applauded Walburn's remark.