Manchin urges caution before attack on Syria
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sen. Joe Manchin said he's convinced Syria's government used chemical weapons against civilians, but he is urging patience in dealing with the international crisis.
Manchin, a Democrat, says diplomacy is the only way to make sure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad does not use chemical weapons again, because the U.S. would have no support from its international allies if it moves forward with an attack.
"Being a superpower means more than using super-military might," he said.
Manchin and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., drafted a resolution that would, among other things, give Syrian President Bashar al-Assad 45 days to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993.
The treaty prohibits the production, stockpiling, transfer or use of chemical weapons. Nearly 200 countries have already signed the agreement.
Manchin told reporters on Monday his resolution would allow Syria's chemical weapons be secured and, eventually, destroyed.
Syria has already signed an agreement — the 1925 Geneva Protocol — banning the use of chemical weapons.
While it certainly would be impossible to use chemical weapons without first possessing them, Manchin said the 1993 treaty would go a step farther toward removing chemical weapons from that country.
If Assad fails to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention within the 45-day window, Manchin's plan says "all elements of national power will be considered by the United States government."
During the 45 days, President Obama would submit to Congress a long-term strategy for Syria, while continuing efforts to rally support for military intervention in the international community.
Manchin criticized President Barack Obama's plans for a target strike against Syria, pointing out the plan does nothing to remove chemical weapons from the country. He said it is also possible a U.S. missile strike could damage a chemical weapons depot, potentially causing even more civilian deaths in the country.
More than 100,000 people have died and millions have been displaced from their homes since Syria's civil war began in 2011, when an attempt began to overthrow Assad's brutal regime.
U.S. officials only began threatening action against Assad in late August, however, when he allegedly used chemical weapons to kill more than 1,400 of his citizens including hundreds of children.
President Obama announced Aug. 31 he would seek the approval of Congress before taking action against Assad.
Members of Congress are expected to vote later this week on the president's plan.
Manchin said he has attended every security briefing and congressional meeting possible on the Syrian situation, and has no doubt Assad's government carried out the chemical weapons attacks.
But while he called the attacks "horrific," Manchin said the U.S. does not need to attack the country. At least not until the Obama administration has exhausted all its diplomatic options first.
He said waiting 45 days also would allow United Nation's weapons inspectors to complete their investigation of Syria's chemical weapons use.
Manchin said he has received more than 4,000 messages from citizens about military intervention in Syria. Fewer than 50 supported a strike, he said.
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican, said Monday she would not support a military strike on Syria, either.
"I will be voting against a resolution to authorize the use of military force against the Syrian regime. Over the past few weeks, I have heard from thousands of West Virginians who have urged me to vote against military intervention in Syria," Capito said in a statement.
"My reasons for voting no pertain to the lack of coalition support and the president's failure to make the case as to how limited air strikes are in the best interests of the United States."
Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., also opposes military action against Syria.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., last week batted down reporters' questions on Syria, saying he would announce his stance Monday or Tuesday. He did not make an announcement Monday.
So far only Rep. Nick Rahall, a Democrat, has come out in support of a strike.
Nearly two dozen people gathered at Haddad Riverfront Park Monday evening to protest a potential U.S. intervention. It was part of a National Day of Action and was one of hundreds of vigils held Monday.
Organized by the West Virginia Citizens Action Group and West Virginia Patriots for Peace, the event brought protesters with signs and banners opposing any military efforts against Syria.
Terry Reasoner, 65, hurried over to Gary Zuckett, executive director of the Citizens Action Group, with her cellphone outstretched. She wanted to show him a text message from her son-in-law, an Air Force veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, but accidentally deleted the text in her excitement.
"It said 'This vet says no to Syria,'" she said of the text. "I think he's just tired of boots on the ground and blood in the soil. We're depleted."
She said her son-in-law would have been at the vigil had he not been traveling. Reasoner said she has been protesting for more than 50 years, remembering back to when she protested the Vietnam War on campus at Northwestern University.
She doesn't believe the American people are being told the full story on the situation in Syria.
"I'm opposed to the lie," she said.
She doesn't agree with Manchin on a number of things but agreed with him on not attacking Syria. She was pleased to hear Capito also had come out against the action.
"I've called and called and called and emailed," Reasoner said. "I'll bet she's gotten a lot of calls and emails."
Zuckett said both groups have encouraged citizens to contact their representatives to urge them to vote against a strike.
"We're very encouraged with the communications we've gotten from the West Virginia delegation," Zuckett said. "This is not a partisan issue.
"This is an issue of when is it appropriate to go to war and that is not a partisan issue."
He said those at the vigil felt strongly against taking action and feared it could lead to further escalation in the Middle East. He added that many Americans are war weary after spending the last 12 years in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Zuckett said he thought the appropriate action would be to have Assad arrested and brought up on charges of war crimes.
"Bombing the country is not the answer," Zuckett said. "Killing more people because he killed people. What kind of sense is that?"
Writer Ashley B. Craig contributed to this report.