WASHINGTON — The United States must assert itself and “set the example for the rest of the world,” Sen. Harry Reid said Monday in a speech that called for a military response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons.
“Today, many Americans say these atrocities are none of our business, that they are not our concern. I disagree,” the Nevada Democrat said. “Anytime the powerful turn such weapons of terror and destruction against the powerless it is our business.”
“Without question, this brutality demands a response,” said Reid, the Senate majority leader. He said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s possession of chemical weapons stockpiles and using them in civil war is “a clear violation of human decency.”
Reid spoke as senators returned from a five-week recess. They immediately confront a resolution authorizing President Barack Obama to launch a military strike in response to the Syria regime’s firing of chemical weapons into Damascus suburbs held by rebels on Aug. 21.
Reid’s comments in recent weeks were supportive of Obama but limited. On Monday he delivered a forceful call for action as the Obama administration is struggling to line up support. The Nevadan invoked the Holocaust, more than a million mustard gas deaths from World War I, and even Dante’s Inferno.
“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality,” Reid said, quoting the “Divine Comedy” of the 14th century.
Reid said failure to act would pose a threat to U.S. soldiers by encouraging hostile forces in other parts of the world to conclude they also could get away with chemical attacks.
Reid also cast the issue in moral terms. He said the attack in Syria that reportedly killed 1,400 people raised a memory of the millions killed during the Holocaust — which he said the world promised it would never let happen again.
“Millions and millions of civilians and prisoners of war were murdered by gas in the Nazi death camps: Belsen, Treblinka, Auschwitz,” Reid noted. “Never again, swore the world. Never again will we permit the use of these poisonous weapons of war.
“Some say it is not our fight. Syria is too far away. Some say it is not in our security interest,” Reid said. “Russia, China, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and the United States — we should all remember our history.”
“There has always been a part of our society that prefers isolation. But sitting on the sidelines isn’t what made the United States of America the greatest nation in the world in years past and, yes — today. And sitting on the sidelines won’t make us a better nation tomorrow,” he said.
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.