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Rep. Alan Grayson: U.S. Has to Stop Focusing on Sending a Message on Syria

September 5, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., staunchly opposes any act of force in Syria, saying "It's not our responsibility to act unilaterally." A strike, he claims, would be expensive, dangerous and wouldn't prevent future chemical weapon use. Jeffrey Brown talks to Grayson about other options he sees for the U.S. in the region.

JEFFREY BROWN: And we come back to Syria and the debate in Congress over a military strike.

We have had one-on-one talks this week with two senators, Michigan Democrat Carl Levin and Nebraska Republican Deb Fischer.

Tonight, the view of a House Democrat leading the charge against using force.

Florida Representative Alan Grayson serves on the Foreign Affairs Committee. I spoke with him from Capitol Hill a short time ago.

Well, thanks for joining us.

Let’s just get right to it. Why would a limited strike against Syria be a mistake?

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REP. ALAN GRAYSON, D-Fla.: Several reasons.

First, it’s not our responsibility. It’s not our responsibility to act unilaterally. Secondly, it’s not going to do any good. It’s not going to change the regime. It’s not going to end the civil war. It’s not even going prevent a new strike and use of chemical warfare.

Third, it’s expensive, and, fourth, it’s dangerous. It could easily spin out of control.

JEFFREY BROWN: A key argument from the president of course has been that chemical weapons are simply different, the use of them must be punished, it must be stopped, or what kind of message do you send to the Syrian government and to other governments, including Iran?

ALAN GRAYSON: As one of my colleagues said, if you want to send a message, use Hallmark, not missiles. I think that logic applies here.

Listen, we have to stop thinking in terms of messages and start thinking about, what is our responsibility as a country? We have a responsibility to 20 million Americans who are looking for full-time work. We have a responsibility to 40 million Americans who can’t see a doctor when they’re sick.

When my constituents in Central Florida hear that we might spend a billion dollars on this strike, they’re appalled. The country is up in arms about even the possibility of this. We set up a Web site called Within a short time, 50,000 people have already signed our petition against the resolution.

When I talk to other members, I find that the e-mails and the letters and the phone calls to their offices are running 100-1 against this resolution. And there’s having — there’s an effect. According to the recent whipping numbers, 20 members are in favor of this, 183 against. Why? Because the American public understands it’s simply not our problem.

JEFFREY BROWN: But what — but do you propose then no action? What is the role of the U.S. today in a case like Syria? What is our role as leaders in the globe?

ALAN GRAYSON: Well, for instance, we could go to the U.N. We could go to NATO. We could go to the International Court of Justice if we were a member of it.

We could do all sorts of things to relieve the humanitarian suffering of the two million refugees in neighboring countries. We could conceivably arm the rebels. In fact, the president said he would arm the rebels three months ago. So far, not a single gun has been delivered. Not a single weapon of any kind has been delivered to the rebels, despite the fact the president said it three months ago. There’s all sorts of other alternatives that don’t involve sending missiles and bombs on a so-called humanitarian war.

JEFFREY BROWN: But, in a humanitarian crisis, is there ever an instance where — I want to see how far you take this. Is there ever a case where you could make the case for military action by the U.S.?

ALAN GRAYSON: Yes, genocide. And in that case, there would be enormous international reaction and enormous international support.

You notice how, with 196 countries in the world, no one else wants to touch this problem.

JEFFREY BROWN: What about the prestige, the credibility of the United States and of the president himself? Do you worry about that?

ALAN GRAYSON: We don’t — no, we don’t earn credibility by doing things that are stupid and counterproductive.

We have to get over that whole idea. And if it were a question of our credibility, then, in fact, I think our credibility is stronger by making wise choices here. And I’ll tell you this. We cannot go to war for the sake of anybody’s, how shall I say this, credibility.

JEFFREY BROWN: But this is your — many people in your own — of course, this is a president in your own party. He’s talked about — he said: “My credibility is not on the line. The international community’s credibility is on the line.”

Is he wrong about that?

ALAN GRAYSON: Yes. The international community has spoken. We are the only ones who are contemplating anything like this.

If we don’t do this attack, no one else will. The British, on exactly the same evidence, decided against doing exactly this specific thing. The international community has decided that, when it works, it works multilaterally, and not simply by lobbing missiles and bombs into a war zone, with effects we cannot even possibly anticipate.

JEFFREY BROWN: What about the international community long ago coming out against the use of chemical weapons, saying that they are somehow different?

ALAN GRAYSON: Honestly, I don’t even know what that means. I mean, it sounds like many of the cliches that I hear coming out of the mouths of administration spokesmen.

The fact is this. People understand, it’s not our problem, it’s not going to do any good, it’s expensive, and it’s dangerous. If you want to get us into a third war in the Middle East, this is the way to do it.

JEFFREY BROWN: So what do you think going on with the president then? What are his motives? Is it principle? Is it politics? What’s going on?

ALAN GRAYSON: Oh, I don’t question the president’s motives at all. I think the president is a person of good spirit who is making a very serious mistake in this regard.

And since we live a democracy, we can do something about it before anything bad happens. I’m delighted that the president came to Congress and he’s willing to see that, when push comes to shove, 20 members of Congress think it’s a good idea and 183 think that it’s a terrible idea.

That’s what democracy is all about. And that’s the message we’re sending to the world, that we are a vibrant democracy and we can think things through without taking abrupt action that ends up being counterproductive.

JEFFREY BROWN: And what happens to the president from your own party if he loses this vote? What are the implications for him, for his stature, for his ability to get things done in the rest of his term?

ALAN GRAYSON: With all due respect, that’s irrelevant. We cannot decide whether to go to war on the basis of those kind of considerations. It simply doesn’t matter.

I will tell you this. I think this time would be much better spent for his own future and the rest of his term and for America’s that we would start to think about the fact that three weeks from now, there’s going to be a government shutdown, and five weeks from now, the government runs out of money when we reach the debt limit.

It’s appalling to me, appalling to me, that we spend two or three or four weeks debating whether to create a whole new category of war called humanitarian war, rather than dealing with our own problems and trying to solve them.

JEFFREY BROWN: I take it you think the president was right in coming to Congress, though?


JEFFREY BROWN: And so what do you think — where do you think the vote count is now? Do you think you have the votes to stop this?

ALAN GRAYSON: Well, it’s not even a speculative thing at this point. You can go to The Huffington Post. You can go to “The Hill” magazine. You can go to the Firedoglake Web site. And you can go to the Washington Post Web site.

They’re all saying that the count at this point is roughly 10-1 against the president’s position, democrats roughly 4-1, Republicans much more than 10-1 against the president’s position.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, Congressman, if the president were to lose this vote, but go ahead anyway, under executive powers, what would you think then? What would be the implications, the consequences?

ALAN GRAYSON: It’s not even worth talking about. President Obama has established a certain tone during the first five years of his presidency. I trust that he will take the advice of Congress, and that will be the end of it. That’s what I expect to happen.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Congressman Alan Grayson of Florida, thanks so much.

ALAN GRAYSON: You’re welcome.