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Sen. Deb Fischer: Obama Needs to Make Case for Strike to ‘War-Wise’ Americans

September 4, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
While some prominent lawmakers have thrown their support behind a limited military strike in Syria, others remain unconvinced. Gwen Ifill talks to Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., about her concerns and questions about why the U.S. is choosing to react to chemical weapon use now and how potential allies could be involved.

GWEN IFILL: Next: a view from the Senate.

Last night, I talked with Michigan Democrat Carl Levin.

Tonight, Nebraska Republican Deb Fischer. She’s a member of the Armed Services Committee. We spoke earlier this evening.

Senator Deb Fischer, thanks for joining us.

So, tonight, where do you stand on the president’s request for a war authorization?

SEN. DEB FISCHER, R-Neb.: Well, I have many concerns.

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We need to look at the consequences of any action that we take in Syria. We need to know what the strategy is, what’s the mission, what are the goals, both long term and short term.  

GWEN IFILL: You know, the president was in Stockholm today, as I’m sure you’re aware. One of the things he was talking about was that it’s not his credibility on the line; it’s the world’s credibility, it’s Congress’ credibility.

What do you think about that? Whose credibility, if anybody’s, was on the line?

DEB FISCHER: I was pretty surprised by his comments.

It was the president who drew that line. It’s the president’s credibility. He’s now come to the United States Congress, and we will be looking at his mission, as he’s going to define it. But I think it is his credibility. He needs to make the case, and he needs to make it to the people of this country.

I would like to see the president have a meeting, have a press conference in the Oval Office, have an address, and lay this out, lay out the mission, lay out the goals. The people of this country truly understand that they’re war-wise. They’re not just war-weary. Martha Raddatz said that on a Sunday program, and I think it’s very insightful.

The Nebraskans that I talk to, they understand war. They understand war in the Middle East. We have been there. We have done it. We know what’s coming. So the president has to make this case.

GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk about what Congress and the Senate in particular is trying to do to make this war authorization fit. It’s almost like a Goldilocks too-hot/too-cold choice, in this case, whether it’s too broad, whether you end up with boots on the ground and too — and involved in a civil war, or too narrow, a limited strike that doesn’t accomplish much.

What do you think is the greatest concern in trying to strike that balance?

DEB FISCHER: I think the greatest concern is to understand what the mission is. I have said that before.

We can have a narrow strike. But then, is that a shot across the bow? What does that mean? Let’s define that. Let’s define what the mission is. There’s a lot of unintended consequences out there. I have been in that region twice now. I have had the opportunity to meet with officials with the Jordanian government. They have many, many concerns going forward.

So this just doesn’t affect us as a country. It affects our allies as well. It affects this entire region. It affects the world. Again, the president has to make a case.

GWEN IFILL: The president, the secretary of state, and the latest drafts in these resolutions have all made the point that there would be no U.S. boots on the ground in any kind of enterprise in Syria. Do you agree with that? Is that taking it too far?

DEB FISCHER: I think the American people don’t want to see boots on the ground. As I said, we have been in the conflicts in that region before. We’re not ready to go back.

We need to understand what the ramifications are. We can say no boots on the ground, but what if Assad uses chemical weapons again? How do we respond? It’s happened 14 times. We’re just responding now. The British prime minister said this has happened 14 times. So why are we just responding now? That’s a question that needs to be answered as well.

GWEN IFILL: So there is — as you try to figure that out, why it didn’t happen before, have you ruled out in your mind that it should happen now?

DEB FISCHER: You know, I haven’t ruled out anything. We’re learning more and more every day.

We just heard from the secretary of defense, Secretary Hagel today, that the Russians are supplying chemical weapons to Syria. We didn’t know that before. I have gone through two conference calls, briefings. I went through a briefing with the Armed Services Committee this morning. We just heard that today.

So what else don’t we know? If the Russians are involved in this, are they supplying the Syrians with chemical weapons, and what consequences are we going to see from that action? How are they going to respond if we go in and attack Syria?

GWEN IFILL: How important, if this resolution is granted, is it to you that the president at some date concern come back to Congress?

DEB FISCHER: As I said, the president needs to talk to the American people. Let’s have that address from the Oval Office, have him lay out his case.

We’re getting more and more information in briefings, but the American people have so many questions on this. They need to be a part of this discussion, too. And it’s up to the president to be able to put that case forward.

GWEN IFILL: Is one of the answers to the question for you that perhaps the Arab League or that more Arab nations should be involved?

DEB FISCHER: Well, I would like to see a number of our allies step forward. We have heard that there are a few out there. I understand that the French are going to be involved in some manner, but I haven’t heard details on how these different countries are going to be involved.

We aren’t getting support from the United Nations. We aren’t getting support from our very reliable allies such as Great Britain. And we need to look at other solutions that may be out there. As I mentioned, we have the British prime minister saying that there have been 14 instances of chemical weapons used, but this is our response to this one situation that took place.

It’s horrible. I’m not saying that it isn’t. We have seen about 2,000 people, many of them children, that have been attacked by their own government and died. But we have seen over 100,000 Syrians killed in this civil war over the last two years with no response from the administration.

GWEN IFILL: Do you worry at all, as some of your colleagues appear to, that there is a potential for retaliation from others in the region against the U.S. should it get involved?

DEB FISCHER: Well, as I said, we don’t know what the consequences of any action we take will be. We don’t know what the ramifications will be.

Somebody will retaliate. I would ask a question of the administration and of the secretary of state and the secretary of defense is, how effective are these small strikes? Give me some examples. Give me some examples in the past when we have seen how effective that they can be. And, again, are we going to see a retaliation against us or against our allies because of that?

I would like to hear some answers to those questions.

GWEN IFILL: Some of your colleagues, Senator John McCain among them and the House leadership, have said that they believe that if a resolution — if the president’s request for a war resolution, an unprecedented rejection were to occur, that this would be bad for the nation. Do you think that would be true?

DEB FISCHER: I think what would be bad for the nation is to become embroiled in a situation in the Middle East again where we don’t have a clear mission, where we don’t have a defined goal.

GWEN IFILL: Senator Deb Fischer, Republican of Nebraska, thanks for joining us.

DEB FISCHER: Thank you.