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Brian Francisco | The Journal Gazette
Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., speaks Thursday to a gathering of about 50 people at the Aboite Township trustee’s office and fire department.

Coats warns against intervention in Syria

– Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., is wary of possible U.S. military intervention in the Syrian civil war.

“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 a public gathering Thursday at the Aboite Township trustee’s office and fire department.

Some members of his audience seemed more certain about the approach that Obama and Congress should take.

“Syria’s fight is with al-Qaida; it’s a civil war,” local accountant Joseph Walburn told Coats. “It has nothing to do with us. It’s not worth our blood or treasure.”

Many in the crowd of about 50 people applauded Walburn’s remark.

Jason Arp, a proprietary investor who ran this year for chairman of the Allen County Republican Party, said that “it’s unbelievable, it’s reprehensible, it’s tragic” that the federal government is considering fighting on the side of Syrian rebels whose ranks include people linked to terrorist organization al-Qaida.

Coats responded in part: “As we have seen in Libya, as we have seen in Egypt, as we have seen in other places, these people who are trying to overthrow the (Syrian) government aren’t necessarily our friends, either.”

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 10-7 on Wednesday in favor of a resolution to authorize U.S. military airstrikes against the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad for his alleged use last month of sarin nerve gas that reportedly killed 1,429 people. The full Senate is expected to begin debating the proposal Monday.

Coats said the measure does not take into account the larger picture 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.

“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.”

Later, when talking with news media, Coats said about the use of sarin: “We do have to do some things to make sure that we don’t send the message that this is going to be OK to do or we condone it or we ignore it. … But I’m not ready to commit to the president that I will support his proposal.”

Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., has not indicated whether he will back the resolution.

“Like all Hoosiers, I strongly condemn the use of chemical weapons and am carefully reviewing proposed options for ongoing humanitarian assistance and possible military action,” Donnelly, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Thursday in an email.

Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, said in an email: “After committee hearings in both the House and the Senate I believe this administration has failed to provide a clear strategy and candid answers. I remain deeply skeptical of American military involvement in Syria.”

Donnelly and Coats have attended classified briefings by the White House on Obama’s proposal to strike at Assad, and Stutzman is scheduled to attend another Monday. Coats said he has “a very high confidence” in U.S. intelligence sources and evidence purporting that Assad deployed sarin in the suburbs of Damascus.

His Aboite Township audience included Republican Party officeholders, volunteers and supporters. Coats’ wife, Marsha, a GOP national committeewoman, was among them.