September 4, 2013 9:50:26 AM
On Tuesday at noon, Mississippi 1st District Congressman Alan Nunnelee said that if he had to vote "right now" on whether the United States should intervene in Syria, his vote would be "No."
"As I evaluate the situation I can tell you that I'm going to be listening to both public statements and some of the private security briefings, with one question in mind. That is, What is the threat to the United States?" Nunnelee said.
The second-term Republican spoke to the Columbus Rotary Club at the Lion Hills Golf Club on Tuesday.
Nunnelee said he "applauded" President Barack Obama for asking Congress for input on the issue. The Obama administration has called for a limited military strike against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime in retaliation for the regime alleging using a deadly sarin gas on civilians outside Damascus last month. The president has said he would put the matter to a vote of both the Senate and House of Representatives.
Nunnelee said the U.S. "can not and should not police every horrific situation around the world."
"We should not commit U.S. military assets, we certainly should not commit men and women in uniform, unless the interests of the United States are threatened," he said, adding that he believes if military intervention does happen, the country needs to have a clear purpose, as well as a clear exit strategy.
"I don't think any of us want to get into a prolonged military engagement in the Middle East with no clear objective, with no clear exit strategy," Nunnelee said. "Right now, I'm not seeing that. So as I got back, I will be listening, I will be looking for that."
Lawmakers return to Washington, D.C., from their current recess on September 9. They are expected to take up the Syria matter then. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee could vote on authorizing the use of force as early as today. The panel's top members drafted a resolution late Tuesday that permits Obama to order a "limited and tailored" military mission against Syria, as long as it doesn't exceed 90 days and involves no American troops on the ground for combat operations.
With President Obama in Europe, his top national security aides were slated to participate today in a series of public and private hearings at the Capitol to advance the administration's case for action in Syria, which has been in a civil war for two and a half years. The administration says 1,429 people died from the gas attack on Aug. 21 in a Damascus suburb.
On Tuesday, while Nunnelee was in Columbus, two top House Republicans -- Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia -- backed Syrian action.
Cantor acknowledged split positions among both parties and said it was up to Obama to "make the case to Congress and to the American people that this is the right course of action."
Nunnelee said his "biggest concern" in regard to the Middle East is the possibility of a "nuclear-armed Iran."
On Syria, Nunnelee said "it's a real tough call."
"Do you side with the Assad government, who's backed by Iran? Or do you side with the rebels who are backed by al-Qaeda?" he said.
The Associate Press contributed to this report.
William Browning is the Dispatch news editor. Follow him on Twitter @wtbrowning.
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