GOP leader McConnell: I will vote no on war with Syria

Olivier Knox

Breaking his silence on Syria, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell revealed Tuesday that he will oppose a resolution giving President Barack Obama the authority to unleash military strikes.

“I will be voting against this resolution — a vital national security risk is clearly not at play,” McConnell said in a speech prepared for delivery on the Senate floor that painted the White House strategy as muddled and rife with “unintended consequences.”

The Kentucky Republican became the last of the “Big Four” leaders in Congress to make his position public. Republican House Speaker John Boehner, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had already come out in support of Obama’s call to authorize the use of force.

In the speech, McConnell noted the emergence on Monday of a Russia-backed plan to avert military action by putting Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal under international control.

“Let me remind everyone that even if this is agreed to, it’s still a long way off to reaching an agreement at the United Nations, to Syria gaining entry to the Chemical Weapons Convention, and to eventually securing and destroying the stockpile,” he said. “Nonetheless, this proposal is worth exploring.”

But when it comes to unleashing U.S. military strikes, he warned, “there are just too many unanswered questions about our long-term strategy in Syria, including the fact that this proposal is utterly detached from a wider strategy to end the civil war there.”

“And on the specific question of deterring the use of chemical weapons, the president’s proposal appears to be based on a contradiction: Either we will strike targets that threaten the stability of the regime — something the president says he does not intend to do — or we will execute a strike so narrow as to be a mere demonstration,” he said.

And McConnell pointed to Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey’s past warnings about American involvement and cautioned that the United States cannot “simply alter the balance of military power without carefully considering what’s needed to preserve a functioning state after the fact.”

McConnell, who faces a tough GOP primary back home, is a consummate parliamentary strategist who had been expected to play an important role behind the scenes as Congress weighs Obama’s request for authority to strike Syria. His opposition dealt a sharp blow to the resolution's already-meager prospects for passage.

His comments came hours before Obama was to deliver a prime-time address to the nation — a speech even the president has acknowledged is unlikely to dramatically shift public opinion, which has been resolutely against going to war.

“It is long past time this president drops the pose of the reluctant warrior — and lead,” McConnell argued. “You can’t build an effective foreign policy on the vilification of your predecessor alone. At some point, you have to take responsibility for your own actions and see the world the way it is, not the way you’d liked it to be.”

Tea party-aligned Republicans like McConnell’s fellow senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul, have fiercely opposed the White House’s push. McConnell’s primary opponent, Matt Bevin, has said he is “adamantly, adamantly opposed” to any military intervention — and his website features a video slamming the incumbent on the issue.