Tue August 27, 2013
Senator Bob Corker: Action Is 'Imminent' In Syria
There are now four United States Navy destroyers positioned in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea — each equipped to fire cruise missiles at targets up to 1,500 miles away.
In a speech yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry called the use of chemical weapons on Syrian civilians “a moral obscenity,” signaling a toughening stance by the Obama administration on the Assad regime.
U.S. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Here & Now he believes U.S. military intervention in Syria is “imminent.”
“I don’t think there’s any way our Secretary of State could have made the kind of speech that was made yesterday, talking about all that has happened there — and the way that he did — and us not take action there,” Corker said. “I do think it’s imminent, and I think it’s going to be happening in a very short period of time.”
Corker said President Obama has been given several options for military intervention, and is still considering them. He hopes the president will seek authorization from Congress before acting, but notes that it’s not required under the War Powers Act.
“I think it would be much better, since we know this action is going to occur, and since there’s not an immediacy if you will — we’ve got a few days, the president is building support among NATO allies and Arab world leaders — I would prefer that we would come back and take ownership over this, because that’s the responsible thing for Congress to do,” Corker said.
Corker supports the U.S. providing support and equipment to “vetted moderates,” in Syria, but opposes any deployment of U.S. forces to Syria.
“I do hope, as I’ve said several times, that what we do is surgical, it’s proportionate to what has happened,” Corker said. “But what I do not want to see us do is involve ourselves in a civil war.”
He also expects the Obama administration to declassify intelligence on Syria before any strike, “so that the American people have the opportunity themselves to know what the administration knows.”
- Bob Corker, U.S. Senator for Tennassee and ranking Republican on Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He tweets @SenBobCorker.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
There are now four United States Navy destroyers positioned in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, each equipped to fire cruise missiles at targets up to 1,500 miles away. In a speech yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry called the use of chemical weapons on Syrian civilians a moral obscenity, signaling a toughening stance by the administration on the Assad regime.
Tennessee Senator Bob Corker is the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and he joins us now from Chattanooga. Senator, welcome.
SENATOR BOB CORKER: Jeremy, good to be with you.
HOBSON: Well, so is U.S. intervention in Syria imminent, do you think?
CORKER: I do. I don't think there's any way our secretary of state could have made the kind of speech that was made yesterday, talking about all that has happened there, in the way that he did, and us not take action. so I do think it's imminent. Obviously, there are some intelligence reports that they wish to declassify so the American people and the world can see through more of the evidence, if you will, that we have against what has happened there on the ground. But I do think it's imminent, and I think it's going to be happening in a very short period of time.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
And is it cruise missile strikes against targets in Syria? Is that what you're expecting?
CORKER: Well, you know, the president is being given several options, and he has not yet chosen, and it's my understanding, which of those options he's going to utilize. I do hope - as part of the War Powers Act I was consulted yesterday in an appropriate manner - but I do hope once they decide on which of the options they're going to exercise that they will circle back around and discuss that with us. But I really don't know which option they're looking at, nor the depth of it.
I do hope, as I've said several times, that what we do is surgical, it's proportionate to what has happened. At the same time, I hope it does not, Jeremy, change the policy that we have in place right now, which is the Syrian opposition group, the vetted moderates, should be enabled to carry out the activities on the ground themselves.
HOBSON: Now Congress is on recess right now. Do you think that lawmakers need to come back to deal with this? Does there need to be congressional authorization if there's going to be military force by the U.S. in Syria?
CORKER: Well, obviously, Jeremy, I would prefer that. I know that that is not required under the War Powers Act. What they are required to do is consult, which they have done, and then come back with various types of reporting. They can conduct activities actually for up to 60 days and then receive a 30-day extension if they wish.
But I'll tell you, Jeremy, it's really unhealthy for our country, in my opinion, for the House and Senate to be as uninvolved as we've been. We haven't passed an authorization for the use of military force since September the 18th, 2001. It was 60 words at the time. And because Congress had no ownership over these activities, to me we end up involved in very sophomoric, uninformed and silly debates.
And I think it would be much better, since we know this action is going to occur, and since there's not an immediacy, if you will , we've got a few days. The president is building support among NATO allies and Arab world leaders, I would prefer that we would come back and take ownership over this, because I think that's the responsible thing for Congress to do.
HOBSON: Are you concerned, though, Senator, that this is being rushed into? The U.N. inspectors have not completed their investigation. This is all happening very quickly, and certainly given our experience in Iraq, shouldn't there be more questions asked before military action is taken?
CORKER: Well again, the type of military action that we're talking about is - and I hope, and I sense this is where they're headed - something that is surgical and proportionate. But let me go back to your comment. I mean, what we now know is that the U.N. mandate isn't even there to assess blame.
I think the world knows that now. In other words, all they're there to do is to ascertain as to whether, you know, chemical weapons were used. You know, obviously in a conflict like this, you do worry, I mean, about whether something is contrived or whether, you know, candidly, even the opposition groups would make it look like that the regime has done what is purported to have been done so that they could bring in international efforts like the one we're now discussing.
I do think that before action is taken, the White House and the administration is going to share far more fully what they know to be the case on the ground. And so I think what you're going to see, as I mentioned earlier, is a declassification of much of the intelligence gathering that we have so that the American people have the opportunity themselves to know what the administration knows.
And I do think based on the conversations I've had over the last - over Friday, Sunday, yesterday, I do think the administration is convicted beyond any doubt that this has occurred.
HOBSON: Well because as you know, 46 percent of Americans, according to a recent Reuters poll, are against the idea of military involvement in Syria. Why do you think so many Americans are hesitant about this?
CORKER: Well, I think Americans have seen, you know, what's happened with the long, long war that we had in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I think, you know, sometimes we - we haven't made a case, candidly, in some many incidences as to what our national interests are.
And I like to, you know, talk with Americans and Tennesseans about the fact that, look, we have four and a half percent of the world's population, we've got 22 percent of the world's economic output, and therefore we are involved globally. It has an effect daily on how people go - the kind of jobs that people have to go to here in Tennessee and across the country.
And when we have disruptions like in Egypt, and when we see what's happening in Syria, where much of this is bleeding over into Iraq and Lebanon and other places, you know, it creates instability; over time oil disruptions. Over time, other things can happen that affect very much the daily lives of Tennesseans and Americans.
HOBSON: Well, Senator, are you worried that this could further destabilize the region, though? If we go in and shoot some missiles into Syria at targets, that potentially Lebanon could erupt, and things could get very difficult very quickly around the region.
CORKER: I am, and I think that's one of the things that certainly has to be considered. I was just, as you know, on the Turkish border of Syria. I was on the Jordanian border of Syria, and I was in Iraq, where this conflict, as I mentioned earlier, is having an effect there. That's why the type of activities that we carry out, again, need to surgical, they need to be proportionate, but they also need to take into account the effects that it can have on the region.
HOBSON: Senator, before I let you go, I just want to ask you if there's anything that can be done at this point that would avert U.S. military intervention in Syria.
CORKER: Oh, yes, certainly. Russian involvement immediately with us and causing a transition to immediately be agreed to where over time the Assad administration, or regime leaves, and we have a negotiated settlement. I think if something like that were miraculously, if you will, to occur over the next 48 to 72 hours, that would be an outstanding outcome. I don't have much hope of that occurring.
HOBSON: Senator Bob Corker is the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He joined us from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Senator Corker, thanks so much.
CORKER: Thank you, Jeremy.
HOBSON: And coming up next, we will continue our conversation about Syria with a reporter who says Saudi Arabia is pushing very hard for action. We're back in a minute with that, HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.