Horsford weighs strike on Syria

WASHINGTON — Rep. Steven Horsford sat off to the side of a crowded hearing room on Wednesday, taking notes as the House Foreign Affairs Committee heard Secretary of State John Kerry defend the Obama administration’s plan to strike at Syria.

It was by Horsford’s count the fifth hearing or briefing he had attended since the weekend on Syria’s reported use of chemical weapons. Later in the day, the Nevada Democrat was scheduled to adjourn to a secured room to review more classified documents.

In the most complex issue the House freshman has faced since entering Congress in January, Horsford has declared himself truly undecided on whether the United States should attack Syria as punishment and — President Barack Obama hopes — deterrent for the regime using poison gas on its own people on Aug. 21.

Sitting through hours of briefings, Horsford said one question that has not been answered to his satisfaction is why more countries are not joining up in response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons when 140 nations condemned their use at a 1989 conference in Paris and 184 nations (though not Syria) signed a 1993 treaty to outlaw their development.

“Why is there not more of a multilateral coalition of partners and why is it that the United States is being asked to act alone?” Horsford said in an interview.

Asked that question at the House hearing, Kerry said a coalition is growing and can be said to include Saudi Arabia, France, Turkey, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

“I still ask, is that really sufficient?” Horsford said. The British Parliament rejected involvement in a major vote last week.

Americans “are wary of entering into yet another conflict,” Horsford said. “We have tremendous fiscal constraints with sequestration and other budget impacts that American citizens are already dealing with on a day-to-day basis. And we’re concerned that even though the strike may be limited in scope and duration, it does have the potential to open us to future engagement.”

On the other hand, Horsford said, “I also share the concerns of those who say you have to balance the risk of acting with the risk of not acting, and what that could mean to the use of chemical weapons by others such as Iran, Hezbollah, Russia, and what this could mean if we choose not to act.”

The Obama administration “is not asking us to authorize to go to war, they are asking us to authorize a limited strike based on the violation the (Bashar al-Assad) regime has committed with the use of chemical weapons but even that is a very serious decision that I don’t take lightly,” Horsford said. “And while there will not be troops on the ground in Syria in any way, there will be the use of military personnel in the strike itself.”

In his first trip East since undergoing major heart surgery on July 1, Horsford was in the capital to take part in events surrounding the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King’s March on Washington when Obama’s plans to strike Syria emerged.

He remained in Washington as the focus shifted to whether Congress would authorize the action. Other Nevada lawmakers are returning to Washington this week, in advance of votes on Syria expected in the next week.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.