The PJ Tatler

The Syria Undecideds: Vermont Dem Says It's Coming Down to the After-Effects of a Strike

A Vermont Democrat said that many of the undecided votes in Congress hinge not on any questions about Bashar al-Assad’s culpability but on concerns about what comes after limited strikes.

Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) confirmed on MSNBC this morning that he’s still one of those undecided votes.

“I think, number one, most of us really do believe that Assad did inflict a chemical weapons attack on his own people. And the videos and just the common sense test. They were launched from the government side and they landed in the rebel side,” Welch said.

“And the second thing is that I think most of us do believe that the president has a legitimate argument that a strike is justified. But the third question that’s really critical and really the gut-wrenching one, will a strike actually make matters — a bad situation worse or will it make it better?” he continued.

“That’s what we’re wrestling with. And this whole question of the Assad government is truly terrible, obviously. But the — that is chaos in the Middle East. And Assad does have some support, because the minorities, the Kurds, the Alawites and the Christians all fear what would happen with a radical Sunni takeover.”

That dynamic is causing “some of us to ask the question, how will this work and how will it be contained?”

Welch called the president’s argument that a message needs to be sent to nations that use chemical weapons “very compelling.”

“And that’s why this is such a wrenching decision,” he admitted. “…If we let Assad get away with it, will he do it more? That’s a real question. And that’s the president’s point. On the other hand, if we launch this strike, well, we have unintended consequences, things get out of control? Once you launch that strike, we’re not totally in control of the situation and the American people have seen that all the predictions oftentimes evaporate once the firing begins.”

He noted that this first day back in session is the first time members will begin to get a real sense of where the vote stands.

“It’s going to be a big deal for us today. I go over and I’m going to be able to read the classified intelligence reports,” said Welch. “The president, of course, is going to be addressing the nation tomorrow night. All that is going to be really relevant. The thing that is a fact is that the people in my district are overwhelmingly opposed to this. They’re very skeptical. And they’re Obama supporters.”

“But they’re asking the question, when you unleash the dogs of war, are we able to keep things nicely categorized, the way the secretary of State is assuring us we will?”

Though the authorization for use of military force is on the calendar of neither chamber today, Welch predicted “a big debate about it however this comes out.”

“The bottom line — and this is where I appreciate the president and also Republican and Democratic leadership — they’re telling the members that you’ve got to dig deep into your soul and this has got to be your moral conviction about what’s right. It can’t be the political considerations,” he said.

“It’s not like we’re at that point where we’re going to learn a lot more. I am back, so I can read the intelligence reports. I can talk to my colleagues and wrestle with some of these pro and counter arguments. But the bottom line, there is not a decision we’re going to make that isn’t going to have some adverse implications. If we don’t act, does it give a green light to Assad? If we do act, does it unleash the dogs of war? This is a tough call for the country.”