By Paul C. Barton, Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- While acknowledging pressure for stepped-up U.S. activity on behalf of moderate forces in Syria, Middle Tennessee lawmakers want the Obama administration to move with extreme caution -- and in concert with Congress -- every step of the way.
In interviews and statements this week, none has been more outspoken than Sen. Bob Corker, ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"The United States has a vested interest in preventing the spread of chemical weapons and helping shift momentum away from radical Islamists toward more moderate elements that can lead Syria after (President Bashar ) al-Assad's fall," Corker said in a statement.
"I should make clear, however, that before the president even considers the use of direct military force in Syria or elsewhere, I expect him to fully consult with the Senate and seek an authorization from Congress."
Corker's comments mirrored sentiments he expressed in a New York Times opinion article last week, in which he accused President Barack Obama of being "indecisive, neither fully 'in' nor 'out.' "
He also wrote: "American leadership, including providing arms and training to moderate rebels, are likely to be the only things that can tip the balance, help end the bloodshed and halt brewing threats to us and our allies."
Meanwhile Sen. Lamar Alexander, also a Republican, said revelations that the Syrian government "probably has used chemical weapons" means the United States "likely will take a larger role in helping to resolve the conflict."
But Alexander emphasized: "The president should take such steps only in consultation with Congress, and should advance strategies that do not commit our fighting forces to broad involvement in another war in the Middle East."
Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, said he had no problem with Obama's resistance to calls for some kind of immediate U.S. intervention. The president, Cooper said, has learned the right lessons from other foreign policy crises of the past generation -- particularly the misplaced confidence of foreign policy elites a decade ago about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
"We don't know who the good guys and bad guys are (in Syria)," Cooper said in an interview. "We've got to be very careful before we think things are true."
As for those in Congress suggesting Obama is too timid, "America is tired of chicken hawks," the 5th Congressional District representative said. "It's easy to call for war when you are not in uniform."
Also urging caution are Republican Reps. Scott DesJarlais of Jasper and Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood.
DesJarlais in particular stressed reviewing "lessons learned from our intervention in Iraq."
He added: "Of course, the United States must stand strong against the killing of innocents and the use of chemical weapons but we should not be expected to shoulder the lion's share of the financial and personal costs of policing the world."
And Blackburn said, "I'd hope the administration will be thorough and thoughtful regarding any action and will view the region as a whole."
Contact Paul C. Barton at firstname.lastname@example.org